27th Oct 2016

EU cyber-security legislation on the horizon

The European Commission will propose binding EU legislation before the end of the year to help member states plug huge gaps in their cyber-security defences.

Speaking at a cyber-security debate organised by the Security & Defence Agenda in Brussels on Thursday (10 May), the commission said ill-equipped member states are totally unprepared for future cyber threats.

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  • Cyber crime generates €388 billion illegal revenue annually worldwide. (Photo: *n3wjack's world in pixels)

"The level of preparedness across the EU is not high-enough," said Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, a commission information security network expert. Angelova-Krasteva voiced alarm at the increasing sophistication of threats and their number.

In the past four years, only 10 member states have or put in place or are in the process of developing cyber security strategies. Estonia was the first member state to publish a broad national cyber security strategy in 2008, followed by Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

In comparison, the United States published theirs in 2003 and it was updated in 2011.

"We are like in the 1940s when people had no idea about the power of the atom," warned Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, a cyber security adviser at the European External Action Service.

An estimated 1 million viruses are introduced into circulation every year, while cyber-crime income - some €388 billion a year - far outweighs the risk of getting caught.

Among some innovations in member state protocols, security breach notifications - currently issued only in the telecoms industry - may in the future also apply to transport, water, food supply, energy and the financial banking sectors.

Such notifications were originally introduced in 2002 as part of a larger EU directive on privacy and electronic communications.

Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes' spokesperson told EUobserver it is too early to provide details on the legislative proposal. But Kroes has already dropped hints on what such a strategy would look like.

At a speech delivered at a cyber-security Security and Defence Agenda dinner in February, she spoke of obliging private companies to notify authorities of cyber security breaches, incidents or attacks.

Her ideas reflect an MEP vote on Tuesday, calling on the commission to propose an EU framework for the notification of security breaches before the end of the year. Separately, the MEPs claim the EU is too far behind in international cooperation on cyber-security issues.

Meanwhile in Crete, the European network and information security agency (Enisa) aims to play an increasing role.

The agency is broadly tasked with building-up information security within the EU but its five-year mandate is set to expire in September 2013. Earlier this year, the European Parliament's committee on industry, research and energy voted to extend it to another seven years.

“It [cyber-security] is very much down to the individual countries. Different approaches are needed in different locations but we are recommending a common approach and a common bench mark," Enisa's Greame Cooper told EUobserver.

Troels Oerting, who heads the new cyber crime center at the EU's joint police agency Europol, envisions Enisa having a direct role in its work. But contacts did not elaborate on what such role would look like.

A Europol-based cyber centre should be operational early next year, with representatives from Interpol expected to sit on its governing board. For its part, Interpol is expected to launch its own cyber centre in Singapore sometime in 2015, said Oerting.

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