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Cyber defense boost

October 1, 2010

The EU is preparing to strengthen defenses against large-scale online cyber attacks that could be used as a weapon. Meanwhile, a newspaper says NATO is planning to make online assaults a military alliance matter.

A gloved hand at a keyboard
Online attacks have drawn attention latelyImage: BilderBox

European Union policymakers have proposed plans to strengthen defenses against the threat posed to its member states by large-scale cyber attacks.

The European Commission revealed on Thursday that - in the past two years - cyber attacks have grounded French military planes, blocked computer access to German military networks and interrupted email traffic inside Britain's defense ministry.

European home affairs Commissioner, Swedish, Cecilia Malmstrom
Malmstrom said new ways were needed to tackle the threatImage: picture alliance/dpa

Several other European states, including Germany, Latvia, Malta and Portugal, were also hit by attacks to extract classified government documents in 2009.

The EU's commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, told reporters that the EU needed to update its rules on cyber attacks as well as cyber crime in general.

Europe-wide laws already cover computer offences such as hacking but remote-controlled attacks that take over computers are not yet dealt with at an EU level.

The commission is also proposing to strengthen and modernize the European Network of Security and Information Security Agency (ENISA).

"We are not totally defenseless," said Malmstrom. "We have some tools ... and we are looking at it in our security strategy but this is something long term where we need bigger capacity."

A well-publicized cyber attack against EU member Estonia in 2007 cost the Baltic state an amount estimated to be between 19 million and 28 million euros.

Military defense against threat?

Malmstrom said that the EU, which does not have a shared defense force, was not addressing cyber attacks at a military level.

The reactor building of Bushehr nuclear power plant
The Bushehr nuclear plant was hit by a cyber attackImage: AP

However, a newspaper report in Germany says that NATO is considering a policy of making an online attack on one member an attack on the alliance as a whole.

The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen was pushing for the measure to be adopted at an alliance summit in Lisbon in November.

The newspaper claimed that NATO envisages meeting cyber crime with "common defense and deterrence measures."

An apparent cyber attack on Iran earlier in the week drew attention to the threat of a cyber attack being used as a weapon.

Iranian officials said on Sunday that a computer worm that uses security holes in ordinary computer software - as well as a key Siemens industrial control system - had been detected in staff computers at the country's Bushehr nuclear power plant.

The complexity of the worm, detected at many other industrial plants in the country, suggests that it may have been developed by a nation state.

Author: Richard Connor (dpa/AP/Reuter/AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson