On Wednesday, the European Commission presented its plans for the establishment of a new joint cyber unit: the Joint Cyber Unit. According to the EU’s executive board, there is a greater need for an advanced and coordinated cybersecurity response.
This is because hackers are increasingly carrying out cyber attacks that have a major social impact.
Important step for European cybersecurity
The aim of the Joint Cyber Unit or Joint Cyber Unit is to bring together the available knowledge and resources in the EU on cyber incidents and threats. In this way, Brussels wants to deter and fight hackers and cybercriminals. At present, law enforcement agencies and other (security) services are still too often working at cross-purposes. That’s because they operate according to the ‘need-to-know’ principle. According to EC president Ursula von der Leyen, a switch to a ‘need-to-share’ principle is necessary.
The European Commission considers the establishment of a joint cyber unit an important step in the field of European cybersecurity. The ultimate goal is to make the digital European economy and society in the EU Member States more secure. This can only be achieved by working together, says the Commission. Now it is up to individual countries to do something about it themselves.
By exchanging information and knowledge in real-time and by implementing an alert system, it should be easier to deal with large-scale cyber incidents. “The sectors may be specific, but the threats are often common, requiring coordination, knowledge sharing and even advance warnings,” the European Commission said in a statement.
Joint Cyber Unit to be operational by June 2023
The European Commission proposes to build the joint cyber unit in four steps. The unit must be fully operational by June 30, 2023. ENISA, the European Agency for Cyber Security, acts as a secretariat in the preparation phase. During the founding period, the Agency will work closely with CERT-EU, the Computer Emergency Response Team for EU institutions. The Commission will provide the financial means to get the initiative off the ground.
“Cybersecurity is a cornerstone of a digital and connected Europe,” said Margrethe Vestager, Vice-President of the European Commission. “In today’s society, it is paramount to respond to threats in a coordinated manner. The joint cyber unit will contribute to this. Together we can really make a difference.”
Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, agrees with his colleague Vestager. “The joint cyber unit is a building block to protect ourselves against the increasing and increasingly complex cyber threats. We have set clear targets and timelines that will enable us, together with the Member States, to concretely improve EU crisis management cooperation, detect threats and react more quickly. It is the operational arm of the European Cyber Shield.”
European healthcare institutions targeted by hackers
Investing in a joint approach in the fight against cyberattacks is more important than ever, according to the European Commission. The corona crisis shows that defending health and care systems, research centres and other critical infrastructure is much needed. “Strong action is needed in this area to future-proof the EU economy and society,” said the Commission.
At the end of 2020, hackers attacked the European Medicines Agency EMA. They managed to penetrate the drug watchdog’s computer systems and steal confidential documents from Pfizer and BioNTech. The perpetrators were looking for information about the functioning and authorization procedures of corona vaccines. Some of the stolen documents were modified and put online, presumably to undermine confidence in corona vaccines. It is suspected that Chinese and Russian hackers are behind this attack.
Also AstraZeneca, the same coronavirus vaccine was late last year the target of North Korean hackers. They pretended to be a recruiter and approached AstraZeneca employees via LinkedIn and WhatsApp with fake vacancies. The employees received a document with a job description of the non-existent job. The file contained malicious code to gain access to the victim’s computer. The hackers wanted to infiltrate the company network through this route. The attackers were unable to access the network.