European Commission ramps up on cross-border cybersecurity

The Commission has called cyber attacks a danger to the "whole digital economy".
7 November 2018

EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. Source: JOHN THYS / AFP

Calling for Union-wide cooperation and announcing new funding initiatives, the European Commission (EC) is doubling down on efforts to fortify cybersecurity on the continent.

The announcement at ICT security event ISSE in Brussels follows a rally cry last month from Julian King, EC Commissioner for the Security Union, warning of “chemical weapons being used on our street” and “state-sponsored cyber attacks” in the same breath.

“Europe is under threat like never before, and Europeans are looking to us to act,” he announced.

Well, the EC has acted; at ISSE, it outlined increased funding for research, defense and cooperation in cybersecurity, whose current vulnerabilities— exacerbated by response capacities varying from country-to-country— are a “danger” to the “whole digital economy”.

While news of alleged interference was loudest around the 2016 presidential elections in the States— and the Brexit vote in the UK, to an extent— a US Senate report has presented evidence that Russia has interfered in at least 19 elections or referendums in Europe in the past two years, including national elections in France and Germany.

It’s not just a governmental problem, though; malware attacks and data breaches are a part of the daily technology and business dialogue— while away from Europe, HSBC yesterday admitted some sub-1-percent of its US customers’ bank accounts were hacked in October. While this is more high-profile, over 90 percent of ‘spear phishing’ attacks on enterprises are targeted at specific individuals.  

“The threat is global, which means everyone is affected,” said Miguel Gonzalez-Sancho, head of the EC’s unit for cyber technology in quotes attained by Computer Weekly. “But there are differences in terms of [cyber defense] preparedness, and attackers will always go for the weakest link, putting the whole system at risk, so there is a need to increase resilience to cyber threats and incident response and to do it in a coordinated way.”

In that vein, the core focus for the EC will be in building and cooperating on an EU-wide policy framework for cyber attack resilience and deterrence. The development of these will be backed by funding from the Horizon 2020 and Connecting Europe Facility programme.

Some areas of focus for research include the development and revision of advanced equipment, tools and data infrastructure; efforts to educate European citizens and threat deterrence and mitigation, as well as fostering cybersec skills; and the deployment and reinforcement of solutions and network security.

Development will be backed by an alleged EUR3 billion, which could increase to over EUR9 billion in the “next budget cycle”, according to Gonzalez-Sancho.