German Government Commissioner for Information Technology Klaus Vitt | German Federal Ministry of the Interior
Klaus Vitt discusses his role protecting Germany from cyber attacks.
3/20/17, 7:54 PM CET
Updated 3/20/17, 8:10 PM CET
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.
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The director of the National Gallery insisted that security cuts have not placed priceless works of art at risk after a Gainsborough masterpiece was slashed by a visitor.
Dr Gabriele Finaldi said The Morning Walk, a 1785 painting by Thomas Gainsborough said to be worth at least 10m, would be back on public display as soon as possible.
Gallery conservationists are currently repairing the damage after a vandal used a sharp instrument, believed to be a drill bit, to make two long scratches on the work, on Saturday afternoon.
The perpetrator was apprehended with the help of visitors, triggering the evacuation of the East Wing of the central London gallery.
Reports suggested that the collection was more vulnerable to vandalism with gallery assistants or warders , required to guard two rooms, rather than one . Security was outsourced to the private company, Securitas, in 2015.
But Dr Finaldi said: I absolutely disagree . There has been no change in the way our operation has run in the gallery since we had contractors in.
He added: All our protocols worked exceptionally well . Security dealt with the incident extremely effectively and the public were kept safe . We have a very strict bag searching policy.
But inevitably as a result of this, and with such a precious collection, we will keep security under review.
The damage could have been worse . The scratches didn t go all the way through the canvas, Dr Finaldi told the i . It is relatively straightforward to deal with.
We are consolidating the pigment which has been lifted as a result of these scratches and repairing the damage .
I m confident we can get it back on public display quickly.
The incident was shocking for those in the gallery, said the director, who praised the members of the public and police who helped staff apprehend the vandal.
The new Gallery B opens to the public on Wednesday (photo National Gallery)
The Morning Walk depicts a wealthy young couple, Mr and Mrs William Hallett, both 21, strolling through woodland.
It formed the backdrop to a scene in the James Bond film Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig, which takes place in the Gallery s Room 34.
Keith Gregory, 63, of no fixed address, was appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday charged with causing criminal damage.
A unique display of paintings by the Flemish artist Rubens, hung opposite works by his Dutch counterpart, Rembrandt, will launch the first new exhibition space created at the National Gallery in 26 years.
Rubens and Rembrandt display in New Gallery B National Gallery, London
Gallery B, which opens to the public on Wednesday, will add an additional 200 square metres of display space to the ground floor.
The inaugural free show, Rubens and Rembrandt , creates a dynamic visual dialogue between the two great 17th-century masters.
Though the pair probably never met in person, their works will meet face-to-face, hung on opposing walls in the show designed to illuminate connections and contrasts between the artists.
The show feature nine works by Rubens and 11 paintings by Rembrandt, who was influenced by the older Flemish artist, from the National Gallery s extensive collection of Dutch and Flemish art.
Alongside the launch of the 1m Gallery B, Gallery A, previously open every Wednesday afternoon and one Sunday per month, will now be open to the public daily.
Visitors can now explore all of the Ground Floor Galleries and progress up to the Main Floor whilst enjoying a continuous viewing experience, the Gallery said.
The last new display space to open at the Gallery was the Sainsbury Wing in 1991.
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