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18th Sep 2021

EU creates new cyber unit, after wave of online attacks

  • In 2020, there were 949 significant malicious attacks in the EU - a 72-percent increase year-on-year (Photo: UK Ministry of Defence)

The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday (23 June) plans to build a new task force to respond to increasing numbers of cyberattacks on the bloc.

"The recent ransomware attacks should serve as a warning that we must protect ourselves against threats that could undermine our security," said commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas.

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"We need to pool all our resources to defeat cyber-risks and enhance our operational capacity," he added.

In 2020, there were 949 significant malicious attacks in the EU, of which 742 targeted "critical sectors" (energy, transport, water, health, digital infrastructure and finance sector). That is a 72-percent increase compared to 2019.

In recent months, several institutions, including the EU commission, the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority, were subject to cyberattacks.

Under the proposed "Joint Cyber Unit," national bodies responsible for cybersecurity will be able to seek assistance from other member states to address and recover from large-scale such attacks and crisis.

The cyber unit will coordinate exiting operations between EU institutions, agencies and national authorities across the bloc, exchanging information in real-time on threats to prevent, deter and respond to cyberattacks.

The idea of a coordinated cyber unit across the EU was floated by the EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen in her political guidelines, but the proposal has picked up speed after an increasing number of ransomware attacks.

While some member states have teamed up to increase cyber resilience, most authorities - such as law enforcement or diplomatic bodies - often operate separately.

"The Joint Cyber Unit is a building block to protect ourselves from growing and increasingly complex cyber threats," EU commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton said.

The task force is expected to be operational by mid-2022 and fully established by mid-2023. It is one of the landmark initiatives under the EU strategy for cybersecurity, designed to safeguard economic growth associated with digital technologies.

The annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy in 2020 was estimated to be €5.5 trillion.

In the EU, there are more than 60,000 cybersecurity companies and 660 centres of cybersecurity expertise - with a market value estimated at more than €130bn.

However, a commission report on the cybersecurity strategy implementation warns that greater efforts are required to address "the massive skill shortages" and a "severe underrepresentation of women" in the sector.

It is estimated that there will be around 350,000 unfilled cybersecurity posts in Europe by 2022. Meanwhile, women make up only seven percent of this sector's workforce.

Earlier this month, Poland reported a far-reaching cyberattack on top government officials, claiming that evidence shows it came from Russian secret services.

In 2020, the European Council imposed the first-ever sanctions against cyberattacks, targeting Russian, Chinese and North Korean hackers.

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