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Cyber chief: Hacktivism and espionage being monitored across Europe by online national security

Beyond the more high profile ransomware attacks, Richard Browne of NCSC said, there is hacktivism and espionage across Europe.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

DENIAL OF SERVICE hacktivism and a constant flow of online espionage by various states is being monitored across Europe, Ireland’s cyber chief has revealed. 

National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) director Dr Richard Browne, speaking recently to The Journal, said that a lot of the hacktivism, mainly based in Russia, is designed to sow fear in Europe. 

Browne said there has been a lot of cyber based espionage activity across Europe with two countries suspected as the main perpetrators. 

Critically the hacktivism is low level in threat status and is being readily dealt with by cyber security experts across the EU member states. 

“There has been a resurgence of hacktivism, which is essentially, in theory, non state sponsored, low level cyber attack by concerned citizens.

“It’s a couple of different groups emanating, supposedly, from Russia, Killnet being the obvious one and coordinating on social media.

“They are low level denial of service, low level malware – most of them don’t even amount to much of a blip. 

“Their aim is obviously to try and create a sense of fear in the West. Right now, it doesn’t seem to be working, but it’s out there. And it’s happening,” he explained. 

Browne added that there has been a number of high profile attacks across Eastern Europe but also in Italy and Norway.

Espionage

He also said that there is a lot of state-on-state spying across the continent. 

“The other thing people are seeing is lots and lots of espionage activity across Europe.

“That’s very public and open, people are talking about it, the Belgians have spoken about it. There’s two countries responsible for most of it,” he said. 

Browne would not be drawn on who those countries are but there is a belief among security sources, speaking to The Journal that it is China and Russia. 

Sources have said that the telecommunications networks across Europe have been accessed not just by Russia and China but also by supposedly friendly nations such as the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. 

Sources also explained that there are suspicions that members of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) contact Chinese citizens and migrants who have relatives in China.

This is to intimidate them to not speak out against their home Government. 

Ukraine

Browne was clear that the war in Ukraine has had a fortunate impact on cyber espionage as fear of breaching NATO’s Article Five has ensured that adversarial countries have eased their online aggression.

Article Five is an element of the treaty which governs NATO’s activities and it is the principle that the alliance’s members would have to respond militarily if one of group is attacked directly. 

Browne said there has been a lot of cyber based espionage activity across Europe. He said, without identifying the main perpetrators, as two countries. 

The cyber chief said there was a recent incident in Albania in which the Iranians attacked that country in response to a specific incident.

While a recent series of attacks against Albania, suspected to be by Iranian State actors, is also on the NCSC radar. 

It is understood that incident is associated with perceived Albanian support for an Iranian radical.  

Critically, despite all these activities, the war in Ukraine has had one major impact – the State actors have stopped attacking targets to prevent a major break out of hostilities.

Browne said Ukraine has received major assistance in securing their networks from major IT firms and this has also assisted them to counter attacks linked to the war. 

“There hasn’t been any real direct kinetic activity in Western Europe since the invasion of Ukraine relationship, but there’s been a significant amount of effort in Ukraine and an ongoing rolling activities in Ukraine.

“But there has been very, very little one or two but spill over of that type of activity in the rest of Europe,” he said. 

Browne said, Ukraine has done a lot of work on its networks since the first annexing by Russia of Crimea in 2014.

He said this has been helped by various countries but also by various private companies.

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