EU tightens defences after a jump in aggressive cyber attacks

Co-operation with Nato stepped up amid fears over Russian meddling in elections

Brussels has seen a sharp rise in “more and more dangerous” cyber attacks on EU servers in the past year, as anxiety increases about potential Russian meddling in European politics.

There were 110 separate attempts to hack the European Commission’s servers in 2016, a 20 per cent rise on the year before, according to people close to the situation. Brussels revealed a large-scale cyber attack last November.

The revelations add to concern over the possibility that Moscow could interfere in French and German elections in coming months, after US intelligence agencies blamed the Kremlin for hacking Democratic party emails ahead of last year’s US presidential election.

Brussels, which holds sensitive data on the EU's 28 member states as well as the management of the single currency, has stepped up security measures to combat the rising threat. Senior civil servants have been told to use email encryption and the commission is expanding co-operation on cyber security with Nato, which said attacks against it had become "more sophisticated" in the past year.


"It's clear that many institutions across Europe and more widely, and that includes the European Commission, are subject to a continuously increasing number of cyber attacks from different sources," Sir Julian King, the EU security commissioner, told the Financial Times. "These threats are persistent, they are aggressive, and more and more dangerous and potentially destructive."

The most damaging cyber attacks are those that seek to “undermine the trust in our democracies”, he added.

Same tools

Russia is at the centre of concern in Brussels about cyber security, but the commission declined to comment on the suspected source of attacks. “Different attackers share and use the same tools and methods and hide their identities by using anonymous servers,” a spokeswoman said.

With Washington reeling over president-elect Donald Trump’s scepticism over intelligence findings that Russia hacked Democrat servers, diplomats in Brussels said the possibility of Kremlin interference in Europe’s elections was a credible risk.

In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that internet-based attacks and Russian misinformation campaigns could "play a role" in this year's election campaign. A senior Brussels diplomat said there were similar concerns in France.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, warned yesterday that April’s presidential election was vulnerable. He said it would be naive to think France, where cyber attacks doubled last year, was immune to the type of hack that had targeted the US election.

An official said 80 per cent of the cyber attacks at the commission last year could be considered “harmful”, but added that systems to protect confidential data had worked.

Copyright 2017 The Financial Times

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times