In light of last year’s revelation that the Russian government was behind the cyberattack on the German federal election, NATO agreed last week to strengthen the alliance’s defenses against potential attempts by Moscow to interfere in future EU elections.
So when Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security informed the European Commission last month of a similar attack on its data protection agency, who was the first to raise an alarm about the attack?
Yes, it was the Russian government — the Kremlin.
The Russian cyberattack on the German security agency resulted in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) learning it had been hacked by their own country’s governing coalition and called for the digital assistants Alexa and Siri to be withdrawn from German homes, they revealed last week.
The system had become infected with the malware, Stuxnet 2.0, according to the technical report on the attack provided to the security experts at Europol.
The threat was revealed only to be relayed to Europe and not the United States because the hacker “opted not to cause damage” and instead kept the attack for state-level politics, the report said.
The report also revealed the hackers had used the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to gather the personal data and exposed one of the party’s central policies by publishing a leaked script from an anti-Islam march the party organized.
“The attack was to signal Moscow’s preparedness to interfere in EU election campaign,” said Nigel Inkster, former chief of London’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and now a senior adviser to risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
The attack occurred in November 2018, and the FBI and Berlin Police quickly determined that only the Russian government was responsible.
The German intelligence agency also traced the attack to the Russian intelligence agency, GRU, which tried to conduct espionage for a specific agency, likely the FSB.
It was the culmination of at least three attempts to hack into the German Democratic Republic’s national security agency.
The Federal Security Agency, or BND, also discovered the agency had been targeted by cyberattacks directed at other government agencies and organizations, and were able to determine the attacker’s location.
“They were playing games, it was malicious reconnaissance,” Inkster said.