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EXPLAINED: How Germany is preparing to ward off future cyberattacks

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the German government is having to reckon with the dark side of digitalisation: the potential for cyberattacks. Here's what's you need to know.

A hacker carries out a cyberattack. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Helmut Fohringer

What’s going on? 

With relations between Russia and the West arguably at their worst since the Cold War, fears are rising that Germany could soon become the victim of high-scale cyberattacks. 

Such attacks have been known to target elements of critical infrastructure like the energy or water supply, or even attempt to shut down systems in hospitals. In other cases, cybercriminals attempt to interfere with financial markets or pull sensitive data from government departments and agencies. 

“There is currently an increased danger of cyber attacks in Germany in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage,” Baden-Württemberg’s interior minister Thomas Strobl told DPA. “We must increasingly expect wars to be waged in cyberspace and to have an impact on our cyber security.”

One key concern is that, in many cases, Germany is restricted to just one or two suppliers of energy or water per region, which analysts believe is not enough to protect the supply in the event of a cyberattack. 

Another issue is the fact that Germany is currently undergoing a period of relatively rapid digitalisation, leaving more of its infrastructure exposed to such attacks.

“With growing digitalisation, the potential attack surface is also growing, we are also becoming more vulnerable,” said Strobl, adding that computer centres at universities, commercial enterprises and individual citizens are becoming targets. 

READ ALSO: Majority of Germans worried about ‘major war in Europe’

Have there been any recent cyberattacks in Germany?

In today’s highly digitalised landscape, cyberattacks are unfortunately a fact of life and something that most businesses and governments have had to learn to live with. 

However, not all cyberattacks cause an equal amount of disruption or damage, so it’s partially a question of scale.

In February, a cyberattack on an oil company called Oiltanking and Mabanaft affected numerous petrol stations across northern Germany, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The so-called ‘ransomware’ attack – in which hackers disable systems and then offer to put them back online in return for a ransom – affected the firm’s logistics and loading systems, making it hard for the company to operate as normal. 

However, there was – and still is – no evidence that this was carried out by Russia.

The real fear is that something like the notorious SolarWinds attack in the United States occurs. In 2020, hackers that were believed to be working for Russia managed to silently slip into the network of a piece of management software known as FireEye, and through this single weak point, managed to pull huge swathes of data from companies using that software. 

“In this case, it meant that Russian intelligence had potential access to as many as 18,000 SolarWinds customers,” Wired reporter Lily Hay Newman wrote of the fallout.

“They ultimately broke into fewer than 100 choice networks – including those of Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft and the US Justice Department, State Department, and NASA.”

Attacks like these could be devastating in Europe and potentially used to try and mine state secrets. At present, however, there’s no sign that similar attacks have been attempted in Germany.

READ ALSO: How prepared is Germany in the event of a military attack?

Is the government trying to mitigate these risks?

As Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) made clear in a recent speech, a strengthening of cyber capabilities is definitely on the agenda.

Speaking in his emergency address to the Bundestag on Sunday, Scholz revealed plans to strengthen the country against potential cyberattacks and explained that “not all attacks are made against the army”. 

“That is why we need strong cooperation in research and development,” he said. “That is why we will strengthen our resilience – technically and socially – for example against cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns; against attacks on our critical infrastructure and communication channels.”

Olaf Scholz Bundeswehr

Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets the commanders of the German military. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/EPA Pool | Clemens Bilan

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) has also pledged to expand cyber defence in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We have to think more about countermeasures against cyber attacks,” Faeser told Spiegel on Friday. “It’s a matter of targeted measures to identify perpetrators and crime structures, also abroad, to uncover their concealment measures, behind which they believe they are safe, and to prevent attacks from being carried out”.

What are businesses doing to prepare? 

The Federal Association for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure (BSKI) believes the threat of cyberattacks is increasingly serious and that businesses should make arrangements for this eventuality.

In concrete terms, the association recommends all companies have IT specialists to hand to get services back up and running as well as emergency procedures and backups for the event of a cyberattack.

BSKI member NovaStor has also set up a free hotline where companies can get free advice on cybersecurity measures and assess whether their backups are sufficient. 

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.