Germany Calls On EU Countries to Impose Cyber Sanctions On Russian Hackers

News and Analysis

The German government has urged the European Union to sanction Russian citizens responsible for the largest cyber-attack ever against the Bundestag, which was carried out in 2015. If so, the move will mark the first real use case of the so-called “EU Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox” introduced in 2017 and designed to respond to malicious cyber activities.

Back in 2015, Russian intelligence allegedly performed a massive cyber attack against the Bundestag, wherein it illegally obtained 16 gigabytes of data, documents, and emails from the Bundestag’s IT network. Among the compromised files, there allegedly were thousands of emails from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bundestag office.

Alleged Involvement of Russian Intelligence

Despite “hard evidence” of Russian involvement in the hack cited by Merkel, Andrej Hunko, spokesman for European policy for the Left Party’s parliamentary group, argued that “it may be that Russian citizens are behind the ‘Bundestag hack’, but perhaps it’s a false clue intended to throw off the scent. In any case, to this day there is no evidence of Russian government involvement in the hacking attack.”

In the meantime, German authorities issued an arrest warrant against Russian citizen Dmitry Badin, a “member of the group APT28” who is suspected of being responsible for the hack. Also, Germany claims the involvement of a hacker from the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU).

Germany has sent the proposal to the other EU member states for consideration.

Toward Stable and Secure Cyberspace

The European Council began the development of the cyber diplomacy toolbox in 2017, aiming to prevent conflicts, mitigate cybersecurity threats, and contribute to greater stability in international relations.

“The EU diplomatic response to malicious cyber activities will make full use of measures within the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including, if necessary, restrictive measures,” the document read.

In 2018, the Council adopted conclusions on malicious cyber activities underlining the importance of global and secure cyberspace. In 2019, the High Representative released a declaration on behalf of E.U. urged actors to stop undertaking malicious cyber activities and calling on partners to strengthen cross-border collaboration to promote security in cyberspace.

On July 1, Germany assumed the rotating Council Presidency for six months, which means that the country could play a stronger role in determining priorities for Europe. At the launch of the German EU Council Presidency, Merkel pushed for the digitization of the economy and society.

Germany believes that the development of artificial intelligence and quantum technology will “increase our prosperity, protect our security, and preserve our values in fair competition”.

European Infrastructure is Under Cyber Attacks

As previously reported, this spring, an array of European countries faced a massive cyberattack campaign, with nearly 80 critical infrastructure institutions in Eastern and Central Europe affected. The attacks reportedly were in favor of Russia’s and China’s interests in Europe.

Also, a hacking group linked with the Russian government reportedly carried out a series of attacks on the energy, water, and power sectors of Germany. German authorities tend to believe that the efforts to compromise the country’s critical infrastructure were taken by the Berserk Bear hacking group.

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