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19th Oct 2019

EU raises alarm on fake news and hacking

  • Ansip: "I believe in self-regulatory measures" (Photo: European Parliament)

EU commissioners have raised fresh concerns about fake news and hacking in Europe, but warned that there are “no easy solutions”.

Andrus Ansip, a former Estonian prime minister who is in charge of the digital single market, and Vera Jourova, a Czech politician who holds the justice portfolio, spoke to press in Brussels on Tuesday (10 January).

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  • Jourova: "We both lived for a long time under the dictatorship of the ministries of truth" (Photo: European Parliament)

“About fake news - it’s a popular topic, a hot topic, but [there are] no easy solutions”, Ansip said.

“I believe in self-regulatory measures. Fake news is a bad thing, but according to my understanding, the ministry of truth is also bad,” he said, referring to a totalitarian institution in the dystopian novel 1984 by British writer George Orwell.

Jourova also called for “good and responsible decisions in this sphere” by individual member states.

“We both lived for a long time under the dictatorship of the ministries of truth and that’s why I think we’re both very sensitive about this”, she added, referring to communist-era and Soviet-era rule in her and in Ansip’s home countries.

Ansip said that hacking could be more easily dealt with.

He said that when Estonia suffered a cyber attack after it removed a Soviet monument from Tallinn in 2007 “cooperation between different services and computer response teams … were able to cut [the] majority of those attacks even before they crossed our borders."

He added that “no single member state, it doesn't matter, big or small, is able to deal with cyber security issues alone”, however.

He said the commission would like to spend €1.8 billion more on research into cyber security, that EU states should spend more of their military budgets on cyber defence, and that CERTs - national anti-hacking bodies - should work more closely together.

"If it’s clear what kind of weapons the bad guys are using then it’s also easier to defend ourselves,” he said.

Trump reports

The fake news trend hit the headlines on Tuesday when US president-elect Donald Trump denounced reports which said that Russian intelligence had material that it could use to blackmail him.

The reports were based on leaked files that were purportedly written by a former British spy. One file said that Russian intelligence had filmed Trump watching prostitutes urinate on each other at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow in 2013.

“FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”, Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump, as with the Brexit campaign and British tabloids, had earlier profited from fake stories designed to advance his cause.

Trump also profited from alleged Russian hacking of his opponent's, Hilary Clinton’s, emails.

Meanwhile, Russian and pro-Russian media this week ran fake reports that the US had sent more than 3,000 tanks to Europe as preparations for a “war” against Russia.

The number of tanks was 87 and they were sent to deter Russian aggression.

Hack the EU

The risk that Russian hackers, media, and trolls would try to sway upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Sweden was highlighted in a recent study by US intelligence services.

British, French, German, and Swedish security chiefs and experts have also warned of a spike in Russian hacking in the EU.

Julian King, the EU security commissioner, told the Financial Times newspaper on Monday that EU institutions are being targeted as well.

He said there was a 20 percent spike in attempted hacks on European Commission servers last year.

“It’s clear that many institutions across Europe and more widely, and that includes the European Commission, are subject to a continuously increasing number of cyber attacks from different sources,” he said.

Breitbart

Russia is not the only culprit on fake news.

EU sources are equally concerned about misleading anti-EU stories in British tabloid newspapers.

Breitbart, a US pro-Trump website that propagates hard-right views, is also expanding in Europe, with new offices in Berlin, Paris, and Rome.

On 3 January, it reported that a “1,000-man mob” had chanted Islamist slogans, clashed with police, and set fire to a church in Dortmund, Germany, but that authorities had hushed it up.

Dortmund police debunked the report, but Breitbart did not retract it.

The Breitbart story echoed a fake Russian story last year that migrants had raped a German girl and that authorities had hushed it up.

The EU foreign service has a small team of officials and diplomats tasked with debunking foreign propaganda, but calls by MEPs to expand the unit’s personnel and funding have fallen on deaf ears.

Brexit men launch anti-EU website

Westmonster, modelled on hard-right US websites, said it was: "Pro-Brexit, pro-Farage, pro-Trump. Anti-establishment".

Investigation

French election faces high cyber threat

French president Francois Hollande has called for "all necessary means" to be used to fend off cyber attacks ahead of the presidential election in April and May. But political parties are still vulnerable.

New anti-trust complaint looms over Microsoft

At least three security software companies “met several times” with the European Commission to complain about Microsoft’s alleged abuse of its market position. A formal case could follow.

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