HSE-style cyberattacks are “here to stay” and Ireland is “very open to looking at” increased partnership with Nato to strengthen our cyber security, a senior Department of Foreign Affairs official has said.
Speaking at a seminar on EU-Nato co-operation, hosted by the Belgian embassy to Ireland, David Brück said Russia’s “appalling” war in Ukraine had resulted in “seismic shifts” in long-established non-aligned countries of Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join Nato, and in Germany, with its historic decision to send military weaponry to Ukraine.
The Director of the DFA’s International Security Policy Unit said these moves were happening in “very short spaces of time”.
Mr Brück said the Irish Government has been clear about a need for a debate on Ireland’s foreign security policy, given the threats that Ireland faces.
He said the Taoiseach has said he was keen to have a national conversation, possibly in a citizens’ assembly, before the end of the current Government.
Mr Brück said opinion polls of Irish people can show both a majority of people in favour of retaining Ireland’s policy of military neutrality and a majority in favour of closer co-operation on security matters within the EU.
He said the HSE cyberattack was “probably a wake-up call to many of us” and said these attacks are “probably here to stay”.
He said this was particularly so given the highly uncertain security environment, a situation he thought was “going to persist for some time”.
Mr Brück said that while Ireland’s non-alignment and geographic location has meant the threat of conventional military attack was seen as low, that did not apply in relation to hybrid and cyberattacks.
“Ireland today is an internationally significant digital hub,” he said.
“We’re home to a growing number of data centres, we have waters — territorial waters and a broader exclusive economic zone — where strategically-important transatlantic communication cables pass.
He said Ireland was “very certainly open to looking at” whether its partnership with Nato could be expanded to include strengthening the country’s capability around cyber and hybrid threats, disinformation, climate change, and security.
Mr Brück said it “makes sense to cooperate” on practical issues, including on exercises.
He said Ireland is examining joining a Hybrid Centre of Excellence — of which Nato and EU states are members — in Helsinki.
He said hybrid threats cover a wide area, below that of direct military action, and include economic warfare, disinformation, and cyberattacks.
He added that while he would not personally describe it as a hybrid attack, people could argue that the planned Russian naval exercises off the South West coast of Cork last January were below the threshold of war and could be described as a “hybrid threat”.
Margaret Stanley of the Office of Emergency Planning at the Department of Defence said hybrid threats were expected to increase and said the important issue was to ensure that areas of critical national and regional security in Ireland become resilient to attacks.
She said recent and forthcoming EU directives involve the oversight of “hundreds of critical entities” in Ireland to ensure enhanced resilience to attack.
The seminar was launched by Belgian ambassador to Ireland, Karen Van Vlierberge, moderated by Caitríona Heinl of the Azure Forum for Contemporary Security, and was attended by a large number of EU ambassadors, members of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau, and the Defence Forces Communication and Information Services Corps.
Other speakers included Christian-Marc Lifländer, head of Cyber and Hybrid Policy Section at Nato, and Wolfgang Röhrig of the European Defence Agency.