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Digital Insecurity

The cyber attack on Germany's government network several months ago, tells us nothing new about espionage but a lot about risk in the digital age. And that calls for some rethinking, said already German columnist Matthias von Hein.

What is still safe in the digital age? What can even be kept safe? Those questions are a cause for public concern after it was revealed that hackers had successfully breached Germany's well-protected government network — copying, stealing and spying for more than a year. The only thing that is clear at this point is that the digital cat-and-mouse game is heading into the next round. 

Just an hour ago, next news are on my desk. Two of Germany's largest public broadcasters, ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, the 2nd National TV broadcaster and  the WDR (the Westdeutscher Rundfunk – West German Radio), have been attacked by a Russian hacking group, according to reports. It remains unclear what the group's intention was or whether any sensitive data was stolen.

A Russian hacking group known as "Sandworm" targeted them.

Security officials told German weekly Der Spiegel that hackers had managed to compromise the broadcasters' networks already in June. Although the cyber attack was detected relatively quickly, it remains unknown what the group was after or whether any sensitive data was compromised.

ZDF confirmed the attack on Friday, adding that only 10 computers on its network were affected. WDR decline to comment for "security reasons."

Sandworm is a hacking group believed to be run by Russia's military intelligence service, GRU. According to US federal investigators, the group is suspected of also being behind the attack on the US Democrats' computer servers during the 2016 presidential election.

The group first appeared in 2013 and, according to German intelligence, has targeted NATO servers, several western telecom companies and Ukrainian energy suppliers.

Earlier this year, the German government admitted that its computer network had been compromised via a piece of malware. The Russian hacking group APT28 is believed to have been behind the attack.

Germany's intelligence service (BND) had warned two weeks ago of the potential cyber threats facing several key bodies, including the country's public broadcasters and media companies.

The BND also said that the Spiez Laboratory in Switzerland, which specializes in chemical weapons research, was also among Sandworm's targets. Its Swiss lab had been tasked with analyzing the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok that was used to poison former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

A spokesperson for Spiez Laboratory said officials had encountered one phishing attack, sent via a document used in a workshop. However, the institute itself had not been affected.

Once again, the prime suspect in the attack is a hacker group with links to Russia’s GRU intelligence agency. Thus far, however, German authorities have found no solid evidence leading to the perpetrators. But the fact that hackers exhibited no interest in economic gain after infiltrating a government network would seem to point away from ordinary cybercriminals. 

This was clearly a case of espionage. And that – as long as one is not dealing with corporate espionage – is something conducted at the behest of the state. And it is most certainly the case when such attacks are carried out with a great deal of sophistication and staffing resources over a long period of time. 

Digital insecurity – an important topic for each and everyone nowadays.

Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or  follow me in Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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