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EXPLAINED: How Germany is preparing to fend off future cyberattacks

What is happening?

With relations between Russia and the West arguably at their worst since the Cold War, fears are mounting that Germany could soon fall victim to large-scale cyberattacks.

Such attacks are known to target elements of critical infrastructure such as energy or water supplies, or even attempt to disable systems in hospitals. In other cases, cyber criminals try to meddle in financial markets or obtain sensitive data from government services and agencies.

“There is currently an increased risk of cyber attacks in Germany in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage,” Thomas Strobl, Baden-Württemberg’s interior minister, told DPA. “We must increasingly expect wars to be waged in cyberspace and have an impact on our cybersecurity.”

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A major concern is that in many cases Germany is limited to only one or two energy or water suppliers per region, which: analysts believe it is not enough to protect the offer in the event of a cyber attack.

Another problem is the fact that Germany is currently going through a period of relatively rapid digitization, exposing a greater part of its infrastructure to such attacks.

“With increasing digitization, the potential attack surface is also growing and we are also becoming more vulnerable,” Strobl says, adding that university computer centers, commercial enterprises and individual The Vanir-exoduss are becoming targets.

ALSO READ: Majority of Germans concerned about ‘great war in Europe’

Have there been any recent cyber attacks in Germany?

In today’s highly digitized landscape, cyber attacks are unfortunately a reality and most companies and governments have had to learn to live with them.

However, not all cyber attacks cause the same amount of nuisance or damage, so it’s partly a question of scale.

In February, a cyber attack took place on an oil company called Oiltanking and Mabanaft hit numerous gas stations in Northern Germany, but also in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The so-called “ransomware” attack – in which hackers disable systems and then offer to put them back online in exchange for a ransom – compromised the company’s logistics and loading systems, making it difficult for the company to function normally.

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However, there was – and still is – no evidence that this was carried out by Russia.

The real fear is that something like the infamous SolarWinds attack is happening in the United States. In 2020, hackers believed to be working for Russia managed to silently slip into the network of a piece of management software known as FireEye, and through this one weakness huge amounts of data from companies using that software.

“In this case, it meant Russian intelligence had access to as many as 18,000 SolarWinds customers,” Wired reporter Lily Hay Newman wrote of the fallout.

“They ended up breaking into less than 100 choice networks — including those of Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft and the United States Department of Justice, State Department and NASA

Attacks like this can be devastating in Europe and may be used to mine state secrets. At the moment, however, there is no indication that similar attacks have been attempted in Germany.

ALSO READ: How prepared is Germany for a military attack?

Is the government trying to mitigate these risks?

As Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) made clear in a recent speech, strengthening cyber capabilities is definitely on the agenda.

Speaking in his emergency address to the Bundestag on Sunday, Scholz revealed: plans to fortify the country against possible cyber attacks and explained that “not all attacks are made on the military”.

“That’s why we need a strong collaboration in research and development,” he said. “That is why we are going to strengthen our resilience – technically and socially – against, for example, cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns; against attacks on our critical infrastructure and communication channels.”

Olaf Scholz Bundeswehr

Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets the commanders of the German army. Photo: photo alliance/dpa/EPA Pool | Clemens Bilan

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) has also pledged to expand cyber defenses in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We need to think more about countermeasures against cyber attacks,” Faeser told Spiegel on Friday. “These are targeted measures to track down perpetrators and criminal structures, also abroad, to expose their concealment measures behind which they consider themselves safe and to prevent attacks.”

What are companies doing to prepare?

The Federal Association for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure (BSKI) believes that the threat of cyber-attacks is becoming more serious and that companies should make arrangements for it.

Specifically, the association recommends that all companies have IT specialists on hand to get the services up and running again, as well as emergency procedures and backups in the event of a cyber attack.

BSKI member NovaStor has also been founded a free hotline where companies can get free advice on cybersecurity measures and assess whether their backups are sufficient.

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