Europol agrees Britain may not be alone in receiving cyberthreat information from Russia
The European Union intelligence and law enforcement agency has warned that Moscow may be trying to penetrate government departments and organisations across the continent during European elections next year.
Speaking at a security conference in Estonia on Friday, the head of the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said: “We feel that a cyberthreat against European public institutions and maybe even even the European election to influence is a reality.”
The European Union is based in Brussels and member states all have a seat on the ruling body, the European council. Although countries have their own national intelligence agencies, most share intelligence about Russian cyberattacks and cybertheft with Europol.
The EU had already warned member states about potential Russian cyberattacks against domestic agencies of electoral law, data protection and justice organisations in May.
The European commission has said publicly it may not be alone in receiving information from Britain about Russian interference during the 2019 elections. But this first communication from a regional law enforcement agency, was its most comprehensive warning to date.
European politicians and cybersecurity specialists have been worried that Russian-backed groups might try to target EU institutions and election officials during next year’s European parliamentary vote.
Security has been raised in the summer. A Dutch international cybercrime unit uncovered hackers from Russia earlier this year believed to be working on behalf of the Russian government.
Europol said its first notice of Russian interests in Europe during elections was in 2006. The unit said in its report that it began investigating a case in which a Russian group was targeting European politicians from the moment the 2004 European parliamentary elections were held.
The organisation has examined the activities of the Kremlin-backed cyberweapon Roskomnadzor – its name means “the Court” in Russian – since 2010.
“We have observed extensive exploitation of EU and US civilian infrastructure by Russian actors since 2009, most notably in 2015 and 2016,” said Europol.
A researcher on the European Threat Intelligence team, Jonathan Ward, wrote in his blog: “Russia does not necessarily like competing on the world stage, but it’s willing to use political divisions in various countries to its advantage. For example, post-EU referendum Russia – or ‘putting its bets on the UK leaving the EU’ – claims it cares about ‘the UK’s security’.”