Saturday

28th May 2022

Cyberattacks loom as EU stiffens sanctions on Russia

  • Same malware attacking critical infrastructure in Ukraine has already been detected in Latvia and Lithuania (Photo: Markus Spiske)
Listen to article

Political and private sector experts are warning the EU to take more precautions against the kind of Russian cyber-attacks unleashed on Ukraine, amid concern Russia could use them in response to EU sanctions.

EU leaders on Thursday (24 February) called on Russia and Russian-backed hackers to stop the ongoing "disinformation campaign and cyber-attacks" on Ukraine that are being waged alongside Russia's military campaign to cut off and capture Kyiv.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

They did so amid an asset-freeze on Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the likelihood of further economic sanctions on Russia.

And Russian malware and ransomware attacks were likely to rise in Europe as a response to the new EU measures, according to lawmakers who have familiarised themselves with the kinds of strikes Ukraine is facing.

"This [cyberwar] will not stop with Ukraine," Dutch member of the European Parliament Bart Groothuis said Thursday.

Groothuis spoke to EUobserver after recently visiting the Baltic States to get first-hand information on cyber threats. He said the same malware attacking critical infrastructure in Ukraine has already been detected in Latvia and Lithuania.

Cyber-security should be an EU "foreign affairs issue," not a technical one, given the "strategic costs" of cyberattacks, Groothuis said.

Europe needed a common response to cyber threats, because all EU member states can become victims if a serious attack gets under way, he said.

The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity has issued guidelines to step up security of public and private organisations in Europe in response to the Ukraine war, amid similar moves in the US and UK.

Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland, Estonia, Romania and Croatia were planning to send a team of cybersecurity experts to Ukraine this week — but that was before the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, the EU foreign service and national cyber-response teams have also been gaming out a fictional scenario in which a cyber-attack by Blueland, a thinly-veiled Russia, prompts failures in hospitals and power plants across Europe.

The fictional attack causes casualties, triggering EU sanctions, and activation of a mutual defence clause in the EU treaty, which was last used when terrorists attacked Paris in 2015.

Nato has likewise adopted internal guidance on what type of cyber-attack could be considered an "armed attack", triggering its mutual defence clause.

"We will not speculate on how serious a cyber-attack would have to be in order to trigger a collective response," said a Nato official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Any response could include diplomatic and economic sanctions, cyber measures, or even conventional forces," the official said.

"Whatever the response, Nato will continue to follow the principle of restraint, and act in accordance with international law," the official said.

But cybersecurity is as much a private concern as a public one — and so tech associations also have been pressing the EU to get more involved.

Shares in cybersecurity companies have jumped in value, amid rising fears of escalating threats.

Tech associations from Romania, Moldova, Lithuania, Slovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Finland on Thursday called on EU leaders to build up a "digital shield," increasing training and investing heavily in cybersecurity.

Cyberattacks against Ukraine grew in intensity in the weeks ahead of Russia's military invasion on Thursday, Aleksandr Valentij, an information security officer at cybersecurity company Surfshark, said.

The first major attacks on private companies and state institutions in Ukraine were recorded nearly a decade ago — and just ahead of a pro-EU uprising in Kyiv in 2014, Valentij said.

Significant internet disruptions had been reported in several cities for at least a couple of weeks — leaving citizens unable to call an ambulance, police, or even just to communicate with relatives.

"All of this is part of the Russian plan to destabilise the situation in Ukraine," Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the minister of the interior of Ukraine, wrote on Facebook last week.

Several government websites and banks in Ukraine were hit earlier this week, according to reports from NetBlocks, another cybersecurity company. Hackers also took aim at online media, according to the Kyiv Post newspaper.

Bur beyond the cybersecurity work of Nato and EU member states and private firms, there are, of course, other actors.

Take, for example, the hacker collective Anonymous: this week it declared a vigilante "cyber war" against Russia.

Russian banks, oil refineries to face EU freeze

Russian banks and oil refineries to be hobbled by new EU sanctions, as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine. US wanted to exclude Russia from SWIFT, but Germany and France favoured incremental approach.

Russia launches full-scale attack on Ukraine

EU leaders immediately condemned the invasion, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen calling on Russia to withdraw its forces and vowing further sanctions.

Analysis

What the Russia conflict might mean for gas prices

In the worst-case scenario gas suppliers wouldn't be able to rebuild their inventories over the summer, industries would have to shut down, and energy rationing may be inevitable.

Weapons to Ukraine? It may be too late

Weapons shipments may not be much of a quick fix for Ukraine in the face of an integrated and well equipped invasion force like Russia's.

EU reaches deal on flagship cybersecurity law

The European Parliament and EU member states have reached an agreement over new rules intended to protect Europe's public and private critical entities from cyberattacks.

Opinion

When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin

Neither Reagan nor Gorbachev achieved their goal at the famous Reykjavik summit of 1986. Despite that fact there are lessons that current leaders — particularly Vladimir Putin — could adopt from these two iconic leaders.

Opinion

Orbán's overtures to Moscow are distasteful and detrimental

Some Western European politicians are reviving the chimera of a negotiated settlement. None of this makes the current, half-hearted approach towards sanctioning Russia look better — nor does it shed any favourable light on the cravenness of Hungary's current government.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us