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europe

Germany’s cyber security chief on hacking, Russia and problems …

German Government Commissioner for Information Technology Klaus Vitt | German Federal Ministry of the Interior

Klaus Vitt discusses his role protecting Germany from cyber attacks.

By 1

3/20/17, 7:54 PM CET

Updated 3/20/17, 8:10 PM CET

This article is also available in: German2

Read more: Hacked information bomb under Germany s election3

BERLIN Meet the man in charge of protecting Europe s largest country against the ever-changing threat of hacking: the German government s IT commissioner, Klaus Vitt. During an interview with POLITICO at the German Interior Ministry, Vitt described the country s current cyber threat level as increasingly critical, announced plans to cooperate with private companies and explained why his analysts believe most professional hacking attacks on Germany come from Russia or China.

In September, Germany elects a new parliament . Could the vote be manipulated by cyber attacks?

We have analyzed all processes during election day . Wherever we found weak spots, we have introduced measures and taken precautions. In Germany, there are no electronic voting machines or automation .

The vote, therefore, is not that big of a target . However, there s never a security of 100 percent.

You re talking about potential attacks on the IT network on election night . Another issue is cyber attacks that could happen in the run-up to the election . People are concerned that stolen material from hacks could be used to compromise candidates . Do they have a reason to be afraid?

The danger is real . This is why our Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) advises parliamentarians and their groups in the parliament how to protect themselves . It starts with using virus protection software on your private computer but certainly doesn t end there.

Have cyber attacks increased during the last couple of years?

Yes, the threat situation is becoming increasingly critical . We still observe many security breaches in software and hardware, as analyzed in the BSI s annual report on the state of IT security . This in itself is critical . At the same time, however, our society, economy and state are increasingly becoming more digitalized, which also makes them more vulnerable . On top of that, attackers are becoming more professional, and they are using more intelligent malware.

In 2015, a broad-scale cyber attack on the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, made headlines . What consequences did the government draw from the incident?

The Bundestag is in charge of its own IT security . However, there have been numerous consultations on how the parliament should make its network more secure, and the government took part in them . These recommendations were put into action very consistently . The network and its security components were completely rebuilt from scratch.

Could foreign intelligence services be involved in attacks like the one in 2015?

We are dealing with very professional attackers, that s why only in rare cases can you identify them indisputably . We analyze serious attacks very thoroughly to find out from where they originate . In order to do that, we take patterns from comparable attacks in the past as a reference . Based on such analogies, one can say with a certain probability where those attacks originate from and those analogies suggest that a majority of attacks comes from Russia or China, at least geographically.

How can Germany protect itself?

Attackers want to produce the largest effect possible . That s why they target their attacks primarily against critical infrastructure.

With Germany s IT security law introduced in 2015, we have created legislation that focuses on such infrastructures . On the one hand, it introduces minimum standards for IT security: how operators need to protect themselves against cyber attacks . There are regular checks to make sure they still follow those standards . On the other hand, they are obliged to inform authorities about any critical IT security incidents . If operators are affected, they need to alert the BSI about it, which in turn can analyze it, assess the threat and inform other operators as fast as possible so that they can protect themselves in time. I would like to apply a similar model to other companies which are not operating critical infrastructure and the public administration.

In November 2016, Germany introduced a cyber security strategy: a plan for the country on how to protect itself and how to best react to cyber attacks. What about attacks that have already happened and data that may have been taken?

A cyber attack can have different goals . One aim can be to extract information . If you have no possibility to prevent this, you need to cut off access to the internet . This was one of the measures taken during the cyber attack on the Bundestag . From this moment on, no more information can be extracted. However, in the aftermath, it s difficult to detect where malware could possibly have had access to and which data has been extracted.

What measures are you taking?

To guarantee an appropriate IT security level, we will consolidate the data centers and the networks of the national government and its institutions. Today, we have around 1,000 rooms with servers: large ones, medium-sized ones, small ones . We will centralize them at three or four highly-protected, locations . The same thing will be done with the networks . This is how we will protect the administration with a high standard of IT security.

Another measure is expanding our Cyber Defense Center opened in 2011 . The goal is to always have a clear description of what s happening in cyber space . To do that, we will analyze and assess cyber incidents, with all national security agencies exchanging technical information about the incidents with each other . Needless to say, cyber space is not limited to just Germany. And there s another plan we are pursuing: In Germany, we have large international companies with their own cyber security units, who observe cyber attacks, similarly to what our Cyber Defense Center does .

Four DAX companies have joined forces in the so-called German Cybersecurity Organization (DCSO) cooperation . Our idea is to work with them through exchanging technical information . However, we need a contractual basis for that . This is about highly sensitive data.

When in 2015, a Bundestag subcommittee met to discuss the hacking attack, a BSI official told the MPs that only around 15 employees inside his office had the expertise to analyze and deal with such an attack . This doesn t sound like a lot of people?

The BSI is only one unit in our Cyber Defense Center . We have more experts in the Federal Criminal Police, in the Armed Forces, and in both our domestic and the foreign intelligence agencies.

Talking about personnel: Part of the cyber security strategy is hiring more cyber security experts . How easy or difficult is it to find candidates with the necessary expertise?

There is a great demand for IT security experts . The BSI has hired several people recently . It wasn t easy to fill those positions placing an ad in some newspaper wouldn t be enough .

All those positions could be filled; in the meantime, however, we have new open positions.

How attractive a job is, however, is not only defined by its salary but also by how exciting or dynamic its environment is and by its compatibility with having a family.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Related stories on these topics:

References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ German (www.politico.eu)
  3. ^ Hacked information bomb under Germany s election (www.politico.eu)

Airport shooting reignites security debate before French election

PARIS Police questioned and then released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators sought clues on why he attacked an army patrol in an incident that has pushed security to the forefront of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize a gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past twoyears at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State, making security a key issue in the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner, told France 2 television on Sunday it was “essential” to maintain the current state of emergency, in force since November 2015 . He reiterated that he would strengthen military operations and intelligence against Islamist militants.

Conservative Francois Fillon said France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against the idea of lifting the state of emergency, as floated by the justice minister last week.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an

anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, told a rally that the government was “overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights.”

IN AND OUT OF PRISON

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody, and did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol when he was stopped for a routine traffic check north of Paris, officials said . He then fled the scene.

He later entered a bar where he was a regular customer in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but released late on Saturday, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

An autopsy showed the presence of cannabis and cocaine in Belgacem’s body, as well as an alcohol blood level of 0.93 grams per litre, a judicial source said on Sunday.

The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 g/l.

An earlier search of Belgacem’s home had found several grams of cocaine, the prosecutor said.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor . French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)

Former security guard accused over Heinz insider trading

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