Germany ramps up warning of Russia cyber attacks ahead of vote


Germany ramps up warning of Russia cyber attacks ahead of vote

Berlin (AFP) – Germany warned Tuesday of a rise in cyber attacks orchestrated by Russia in a bid to disrupt next year’s election, a day after Europe’s top economy suffered its biggest hacking strike.

“Europe is in the focus of these disturbances, and Germany particularly so,” foreign intelligence service chief Bruno Kahl told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview.

There are indications that “cyber attacks are taking place with no reason other than to sow political uncertainty,” said Kahl.

The spy chief’s assessment came a day after Germany’s biggest telecommunications group Deutsche Telekom said hackers knocked almost one million of its clients offline.

“It was quickly clear to us that it was a hacking attack,” Arne Schoenbohm, the head of the Federal Office for Information Security, told the regional newspaper group Funke.

“That is organised crime,” he said, adding that the hackers apparently used the so-called Mirai malware to infect routers, preventing them from connecting to the main network.

The attack could have caused far more destruction, Schoenbohm told Die Welt daily. 

“We were lucky this time — the attack didn’t work properly,” he said.

While it managed to knock the targeted router offline, the malware failed to install properly and was destroyed when the router was rebooted.

While it remained unclear who might be behind the telecoms attack, Tagesspiegel, quoting unnamed security sources, drew a link to Russia.

Mirai was developed by the Russian hacking group Sofacy, which had targeted the German parliament in 2015, the newspaper said, adding that the telecoms assault could be a dry run before a wider attack when Germany hosts the G20 summit next July.

– ‘A daily task’ –

Russia has been fingered as being behind major hacking operations, with Washington last month formally accusing Moscow of trying to “interfere” in the 2016 White House race with online attacks hitting US political institutions.

With Germany also gearing up for a general election expected next September, top politicians have warned it could also fall prey to similar rogue operations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel herself said “we are already, even now, having to deal with information out of Russia or with internet attacks that are of Russian origin or with news which sows false information.”

Confronting that was already “a daily task”, she said earlier this month, adding that “it may be that this could also play a role during the election campaign”.

Germany has suffered repeated cyber assaults in recent years.

In September, several political parties were sent fake emails purporting to be from NATO headquarters but which in fact contained a link that installed spying software on victims’ computers.

The emails affected party operations such as the regional network of the Christian Democratic Union in a western state, and the federal offices of the Left party.

The German parliament also fell victim to a 2015 attack that security services have since blamed on Russia.

That rogue operation against the Bundestag involved an aggressive attack by Sofacy that had also struck NATO members and put French TV station TV5Monde off air.

Amid the rising frequency of attacks, Germany’s defence ministry this year set up a cyber department to coordinate a response to possible online incursions. 

Germany’s Bruno Kahl says cyberattacks are taking place to sow political uncertainty
Copyright Pool/AFP/File Hannibal Hanschke