Ireland is taking measures over potential cyberattacks, Taoiseach says

Micheál Martin also acknowledges State would face blowback from Russia sanctions

The State is taking precautionary measures against the potential risk of hybrid attacks such as cyberattacks, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

European countries have accused Russia of employing a range of so-called hybrid war techniques including disinformation and cyberattacks in arenas far beyond Ukraine.

Asked after a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels about the potential risks to Ireland from hybrid threats, Mr Martin said precautions were being taken.

“We will work with our European colleagues in respect of some of those hybrid threats, and particularly around cybersecurity. We had a bad experience last year in respect of a cyber security attack on our health service,” Mr Martin said.

“We’re taking all precautionary measures right now in terms of potential attacks of that kind no matter where they may emanate from.”

The Irish health service was hit by a massive cyberattack last year which caused chaos in hospitals, delayed patient care and led to expected costs of almost €100 million to deal with the fallout.

A malicious file attached to a phishing email opened at a HSE workstation on March 18th led to a shutdown of the HSE's computer systems once the Conti ransomware that was introduced into the HSE's IT system was detonated on May 14th.

The criminal gang behind the attack – believed by several observers to be most likely based in Russia – demanded $20 million (€17.7 million) in Bitcoin in ransom.

The Government said no ransom would be paid and on May 20th the hackers posted a link to a key that decrypted files which had been encrypted by the ransomware.

Sanctions fallout

Mr Martin also acknowledged that there was a risk to the Irish economy from blowback from potential sanctions on Russia that the EU has threatened to impose if it invades Ukraine.

The current Ukraine crisis has further driven up prices of gas, which is supplied to the EU through pipelines running through Ukraine and other countries from Russia, and the Taoiseach said the events illustrated the need to diversify to alternative sources of energy, including renewables.

The supply of the fossil fuel has been used by Moscow in the past as a way to wield political pressure, and supply is expected to tighten if hostilities flare in Ukraine.

"We need to diversify across Europe in terms of dependence on Russian gas and oil," Mr Martin said.

“This type of geopolitical crisis that can occur from time to time illustrates the dangers of being so dependent.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times