Sunday

5th Jul 2020

Exclusive

State-level espionage on EU tagged as 'Very High Threat'

The most successful attempts of espionage at a top EU institution are state sponsored, according to an internal document.

The restricted document presents an analysis of threats to the security of information at the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The GSC administers over the Council, representing member states, as well as the more politically-oriented European Council.

"The majority of discovered, successful compromises of information in the GSC are from threat source level VERY HIGH (e.g. state sponsored attacks)," notes the document, dated 26 May and obtained by this website.

The GSC is a prime target because it deals with the negotiation and adoption of EU laws, coordinates member state policies, and develops the EU's common foreign and security policy.

It also helps negotiations on international agreements.

"Any country with a conflict between their national and EU interests or which may have an interest in EU information only, may try to undertake an attack on the security of information handled in GSC," it says.

The 28-page document was drafted by the Council's security committee.

It does not provide specific examples.

But it does highlight China, noting the country had in 2016 led the world in espionage malware, followed by Russia and the rest of Europe.

"The GSC can also be attacked via systems located in EU member states," it adds.

The most common attacks include phishing emails, enticing people to either click on a link or open an attachment.

One such attack took place in late November 2018 when a phishing campaign hacked into a network at the Cypriot ministry of foreign affairs.

The network was ultra-sensitive because the European Union uses it to facilitate cooperation on foreign policy issues.

Known as COREU, the network operates between the EU states, the Council of the European Union, the EU's foreign policy branch (EEAS) and the European Commission.

Experts says the campaign had been led by the Chinese government via its Strategic Support Force of the People's Liberation Army.

State-sponsored espionage is not the only threat.

Four threat-levels

The document spells out four levels of threat.

It classifies as low amateur hackers and open source researchers. Medium is reserved for insiders who do not have privileged access to systems.

High level is for "hactivists", privileged insiders, and any organisation carrying out cyber crime.

"The insider threat (deliberate actions by GSC staff against the security of information) is rare as evidenced by past incidents (only one case)," it notes.

Very high is for those carrying out government orders to hack systems.

The Council internal document's findings was compiled by the EU's intelligence centre (Intcen), US government sources, the Computer Emergency Response Team for the EU Institutions known as CERT-EU, Kaspersky Lab, Microsoft, among others.

The probe took place throughout 2017 and was updated in November last year.

Investigation

China suspected of bio-espionage in 'heart of EU'

Chinese spies have targeted Belgian biological warfare experts, vaccine-maker GSK, and other high-tech firms in the country, Belgium's intelligence service suspects.

EU parliament chairs explain missing lobbyist meetings

MEPs in January 2019 agreed to a rule change in a bid for greater transparency. The rules included requiring committee chairs to publish their meetings with registered lobbyists. EUobserver spoke to six chairs, who haven't done so yet.

News in Brief

  1. EU grants Remdesivir conditional authorisation
  2. French prime minister and government resign
  3. France lied on Nato naval clash, Turkey claims
  4. EU highlights abuses in recent Russia vote
  5. Belgium bids to host EU mask stockpile
  6. France shamed on refugees by European court
  7. French and Dutch police take down criminal phone network
  8. EU launches infringement case on Covid-19 cancelled trips

MEP in police protection after Czech PM calls him 'traitor'

Three MEPs received numerous death threats in the Czech Republic for asking questions about how EU funds are being spent. One of them had his entire family under police protection after people threatened to murder his four children.

Black MEP: 'I have been a victim of police violence'

MEPs urged an end to structural racism and discrimination in Europe and the US, following the brutal killing of black American George Floyd by US police. Socialists and Green MEPs stressed the need to unblock the anti-discrimination directive.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us