EU to set up new cyber response unit to fight hackers

The European Commission plans to build a Joint Cyber Unit to tackle large scale cyber attacks.
25 June 2021

EU to set up new cyber response unit to fight hackers. (Photo by JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP)

  • The Commission is concerned there is no structured mechanism to facilitate cooperation between member states and the EU cybersecurity institutions
  • This Unit will be designed in order to tackle the EU’s most severe cyberattacks, with a special focus on cross-border ones

A year from now, the European Union (EU) is set to have a new cybersecurity task force that will respond to attacks across the bloc. The ‘Joint Cyber Unit‘ would allow member states hit by cyberattacks to ask for help from other countries within the EU, including through rapid response teams that will be deployed to fight off hackers “in real-time”. 

Ignited by a spate of cyberattacks that have wreaked havoc on the continent, it led to concerns that Europe cannot defend itself or its trade secrets against adversaries. With this Joint Cyber Unit, the EU aims to help countries fight back against increasingly sophisticated and brash attacks by pooling national governments’ cybersecurity powers.

First announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in her political guidelines, the proposed draft “aims at bringing together resources and expertise available to the EU and its Member States to effectively prevent, deter and respond to mass cyber incidents and crises.” The commission reckons that advanced and coordinated responses in the field of cybersecurity have become increasingly necessary, as cyberattacks continue to grow in number, scale, and consequences – impacting heavily on the security of countries, businesses, and individuals. 

Recommendations to fight against cyber hackers

The draft stated that all relevant actors in the EU need to be prepared to respond collectively and exchange relevant information on a ‘need to share’ rather than only a need-to-know basis. “The recommendation on the creation of the Joint Cyber Unit is an important step towards completing the European cybersecurity crisis management framework. It is a concrete deliverable of the EU Cybersecurity Strategy and the EU Security Union Strategy, contributing to a safe digital economy and society,” it added.

Since cybersecurity communities – including civilian, law enforcement, diplomatic and cyber defense groups – as well as private sector partners all too often operate separately, the Joint Cyber Unit allows them to have a virtual and physical platform of cooperation, the Commission said. The proposed draft indicated that relevant EU institutions and agencies were working together with member states will to progressively build a European platform for solidarity and assistance to counter large-scale cyberattacks.

The Commission is proposing to build the Joint Cyber Unit through a gradual and transparent process in four steps. The aim is to ensure that the unit will move to the operational phase by June 30, 2022, and that it will be fully established one year later, by the end of June 2023. The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), will serve as secretariat for the preparatory phase, and the Unit will operate close to their Brussels offices and the office of CERT-EU, the Computer Emergency Response Team for the EU institutions and bodies.

According to the draft, the investments necessary for setting up the Joint Cyber Unit, will be provided by the Commission, primarily through the Digital Europe Programme. Funds will serve to build the physical and virtual platform, establish and maintain secure communication channels, as well as improve detection capabilities. Additional contributions, especially to develop Member States’ cyber-defense capabilities, may come from the European Defence Fund.

Currently, cybersecurity is a top priority of the Commission and a cornerstone of the digital and connected Europe because the increased cyberattacks during the Covid-19 crisis has shown how important it is to protect health and care systems, research centers and other critical infrastructure.  Overall, the EU is committed to delivering on the EU Cybersecurity Strategy through the long-term EU budget 2021-2027, notably through the Digital Europe Programme and Horizon Europe, as well as the Recovery Plan for Europe.