Thursday

12th Dec 2019

Opinion

Lessons for EU to protect against next cyber attack

As the latest ransomeware attack 'Bad Rabbit' spreads through Europe, it is again clear that there are few degrees of separation between malware targets and global information technology networks.

Initially aimed at Ukraine's Ministry of Infrastructure and Kiev's public transportation system, the current ransomware blitz has now spread to Turkey and Germany, compromising a growing list of international businesses, government interests and thousands of personal computers.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The explosive growth of cloud-based and on-demand data systems has pushed vital sectors such as business, banking, and healthcare into risky relationships with IT infrastructure that exposes them to unexpected threats. But governments have even more at stake. Their need to house sensitive citizen data and protect national security has made them ideal targets for cyber-attacks.

Many countries are actively developing e-governance strategies — digital initiatives centred on citizen needs that are meant to promote service efficiency, productivity, transparency, and technological innovation. But these actions have also introduced a range of potential security risks, which need to be met with coordinated cybersecurity frameworks.

High-profile government hacking incidents, such as the 2015 breach of more than 22 million employee profiles in the US Office of Personnel Management database (including extensive security clearance files and personal backgrounds) are alarming examples of the holes being exploited by cyber criminals and state-sponsored hackers.

What can governments do to safeguard their data systems and citizens, and to reduce the spread of global 'e-pidemics'?

Three steps

First, they must shift to holistic approaches that progress beyond suites of technical tools such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and spam filters. They must embrace organisational and behavioural change. By integrating a 'prevention is better than cure' strategy, governments can create interagency knowledge networks and focus on training computer users to be aware of cyber risks, how to avoid them, and how to be first responders when attacks strike.

One such example is the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) — a government "hub for private and public sector collaboration and information-sharing to combat cyber security threats". The centre aggregates cybersecurity and cyberdefence capabilities from a wide range of government departments, police units, crime commissions, the private sector, academia, local government, and international partners.

ACSC plays a pivotal role in raising awareness of cybersecurity issues, reporting incidents, analysing and investigating attacks and threats, and coordinating national security operations to respond to cyber-attacks.

Second, governments must have a clear cybersecurity strategy and make a deliberate investment in building capacity to deal with cybercrime. This begins with a broad assessment of government organisations to fully understand all aspects of their operations in cyberspace (e.g. open doors, levels of data-sensitivity, user authentication, encryption of sensitive data, etc.). Only then can comprehensive security policies and best practice guidelines be developed to ensure that overarching cybersecurity defences are effectively scaled to protect critical information and infrastructure.

But strategies must also be built on a reliable foundation of focal points in relevant government agencies, authorities and civil society. These human resources are crucial links to wider detection of, and recovery from, cyber-attacks.

Third, while the responsibility to develop strong legislation that discourages cyber-attacks falls on the shoulders of governments, they should look to impartial advisors and international organisations such as the United Nations, who are dedicated to enhancing cybersecurity culture and building awareness at policy levels.

UN research centres, like those of the United Nations University, are well positioned to bring partners to the table to find solutions. For example, development of an internet governance model and an international treaty harmonising national laws against cybercrime such as copyright infringement, fraud, child pornography, hate crimes, and cybersecurity breaches with supervision of related UN agencies would be welcome by member states.

Effective cybersecurity is a complex transnational challenge that requires strategy and cooperation at all levels and among states. There is a long way to go to build a coordinated response to computer crimes, but with new exploits being developed every day, there is no time to wait. Our short-term solutions must be devised as building blocks of a collaborative effort to fight global cyber-attacks.

Nuno Lopes and Jose Faria are researchers at the United Nations University operating unit on policy-driven electronic governance.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU unsure how to 'make most' of AI

Whoever controls AI, 'will become the ruler of the world', according to Russian president Vladimir Putin. EU leaders want to move quickly to harness the opportunities of the technology.

On cybersecurity, Europe must act now

Some governments have closed their eyes, hoping that the menace will go away. It will not - it will only become stronger, according to the former prime minister of Estonia, one of the EU's leading digital states.

European shipping's dirty secret

As the EU launches its flagship Green Deal, the Greens call for shipping emissions to be included in carbon targets. Ships carrying goods to and from the UK emitted more CO2 than all the cars in Britain's 15-largest cities.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs protest against PM Babis over EU subsidy 'fraud'
  2. EU disbursed €2.7bn for Turkey refugees
  3. UK ports set to host EU border checks for Northern Ireland
  4. EU puts tech giants in crosshairs
  5. Faroe Islands under pressure to chose Huawei
  6. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  7. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  8. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Leaders to battle on climate target and money at summit
  2. Von der Leyen: 'Green Deal is our man-on-moon moment'
  3. North Atlantic mini states in geopolitical turbulence
  4. Survey marks EU optimism on eve of UK's Brexit election
  5. Six priorities for human rights
  6. European shipping's dirty secret
  7. Hungary quizzed over EU rules amid twitter row
  8. Spanish King meets party leaders to break deadlock

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us