Mon, May 15, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Hacks, leaks, fake news: Germany fears interference in September elections

By Andrea Shalal  /  Reuters, BERLIN

Illustration: Yusha

After election hacks in the US and France, Germany is worried it might be next.

Four months before an election in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to win another term, the Federal Office for Information Security of Germany (BSI) warned political parties to shore up their computer defenses.

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency last week accused Moscow of gathering a large amount of political data in cyberattacks and said it would be up to the Kremlin whether to meddle in the Sept. 24 elections.

The German government has boosted funding to the BSI and is to add 180 jobs to the agency this year. It is also expanding a cyberdefense center and has stepped up data sharing with private sector firms.

The government is even studying legislative changes to allow it to strike back — by destroying an enemy’s servers, say — in the event of a major cyberattack.

Despite the extra vigilance, more than a dozen cyberexperts, German lawmakers and government officials interviewed by Reuters said the leaders of Europe’s most powerful nation face a huge challenge if they come under attacks like those on former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and French President Emmanuel Macron, whose e-mails were hacked.

Security researchers and US officials believe Russian hackers were behind the US attack and have warned Berlin that Moscow now has its sights on Germany. The origin of the hack of Macron’s e-mails last week is still under investigation.

In particular, German authorities worry that e-mails obtained by hackers in a 2015 cyberattack on the German parliament will be leaked before the Sept. 24 election.

Two sources familiar with the matter said one of the dozen or so accounts hit was Merkel’s parliamentary account, though her primary work account was not touched.

One of the sources said Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Secretary-General Peter Tauber was later hit by a ransomware attack, in which viruses are used to lock up a computer’s data, forcing users to pay attackers in order to regain use of their machines.

“Digitization has overwhelmed us. Let’s not fool ourselves. Despite all the assurances about bolstering security, Germany is not really prepared for what is coming,” said Dirk Arendt, a German-based employee at Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies.

Government and party officials declined to comment on whose accounts were hit in 2015.

The BSI believes Merkel and her conservative CDU are being particularly targeted by APT 28, a Russian group US officials have blamed for the hacking of Clinton’s e-mails.

The BSI said APT 28, also known as “Pawn Storm” or “Fancy Bear,” was behind the 2015 attack on Germany’s parliament as well as two attacks on the CDU last year.

Security firm Trend Micro said the group struck the think tanks of both the CDU and the Social Democrats, who are junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government, in March and last month.

Trend Micro said the group had also targeted Macron.

Russia has denied involvement in the attacks, saying it never interferes in the internal political affairs of other nations.

A Kremlin spokesman said he had no idea who was behind APT 28.

“We do not know who these people are and have no relation to them,” he said.

However, US and German officials say the connections are clear.

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