Germany launches new cyber command

It will shield military IT and weapons systems from attacks, be granted status equal to that of army, navy and air force

BERLIN • Germany's armed forces were yesterday set to launch a new cyber command, with a status equal to that of the army, navy and air force, meant to shield its information technology (IT) and weapons systems from attacks.

Military planners fear that wars of the future will start with cyber attacks against critical infrastructure and networks, extensive online espionage and sabotage.

The Bundeswehr's new Cyber and Information Space Command, based in the former West German capital of Bonn, will start with 260 IT specialists but grow to 13,500 military and civilian personnel by July.

With the new digital force, Germany is taking a leading role among Nato allies, its commander, Lieutenant-General Ludwig Leinhos, told weekly new magazine Focus.

Lt-Gen Leinhos said the command's main tasks would be to operate and protect the military's IT infrastructure and computer-assisted weapons systems, as well as conduct surveillance of online threats.

He said it would also develop offensive capabilities, because "in order to be able to defend yourself, you have to know the options for attack".

However, any full-scale cyber attacks abroad would have to be approved by the German Parliament, just like any other military mission.

Meanwhile, the security of national and government IT systems remains the responsibility of the interior ministry, which oversees the domestic security agency that handles counterespionage.

The German government has been sensitised to cyber security since its Parliament was attacked last year, with security sources suspecting Russian hackers as being responsible.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced the creation of the cyber command two years ago to protect the military from an increasing number of online attacks.

The defence ministry said that for the first nine weeks in this year alone, the IT systems of the Bundeswehr had been targeted more than 280,000 times.

Lt-Gen Leinhos said "we are in a constant race between the development of attack options and defensive capabilities".

The German Parliament was the target of fresh cyber attacks in January that attempted to piggyback on an Israeli newspaper website in order to target politicians in Germany, Berlin's cyber security watchdog said last Wednesday.

Cyber defences installed after a 2015 hack of the German Parliament helped avert the attempted breaches, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) said.

The hackers appeared to use advertisements on the Jerusalem Post website to redirect users to a malicious site, it said.

The BSI also looked into unusual activity on the Parliament's network earlier this year and has just completed a detailed analysis of the incident, which was first reported by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last Wednesday.

At least 10 German lawmakers were affected by the attempted hack, the Munich daily reported.

"The technical analysis is complete. The website of the Jerusalem Post was manipulated and had been linked to a malicious third party site," the agency said in a statement.

"BSI found no malware or infections as part of its analysis of the Bundestag networks."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Germany launches new cyber command'. Print Edition | Subscribe