Ireland taking part in EU-wide cyberattack simulation

Ireland taking part in EU-wide cyberattack simulation

Simulated attacks can focus on specific industry sectors, or on geopolitical concerns such as how the EU would react to a major cyberattack in the event a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

Ireland is taking part in a large-scale simulated cyberattack by hostile actors on the EU, in a bid to beef up the union’s cyber defences.

The Irish Examiner has established that a number of agencies and government departments here are involved in the exercise. The massive operation, which began on January 14, runs for a total of six weeks and brings together all the relevant players in the area —  technical, policing and governmental.

The exercise happens to coincide with the massing of Russian troops at Ukraine’s borders and fears it could also launch cyberattacks directed at the West.

It also follows last weekend’s cyberattack on Ukrainian government sites, with reports from Reuters that a hacker group linked to intelligence services from Belarus, a close ally of Russia, may have been behind it.

Irish and European agencies involved

It is understood that the Department of Foreign Affairs is leading the political involvement by Ireland in the exercise. On the operational side, the Department of Communications and its National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) are taking the lead, along with the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána.

The large-scale exercise is organised by the French presidency of the Council of the European Union along with the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is the EU's Foreign & Security Policy Service. It is being supported by the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA).

An ENISA statement provided to the Irish Examiner said the exercise was separate to the annual exercise they run called Cyber Europe, which will happen this summer. 

“This exercise is different in that it involves various Council bodies, meaning the political level of EU response to a cyberattack,” the statement said.

“The exercise has the objective to strengthen the level of preparedness of the European Union to respond to large-scale cyber crises and intends to involve both the political and operational level to test the EU's response to a cyberattack and better prepare the EU and its member states in responding in a coordinated manner.” 

All EU members are involved

A statement from the Department of Communications said: “EU leaders, at the October 2021 European Council, emphasised the importance of further developing the EU cybersecurity crisis management framework and an efficient EU-level response to large-scale cybersecurity incidents and crises, including through exercises.

“Any EU exercise would involve all member states including Ireland.” 

The NCSC was the lead agency responding to the cyberattack on HSE systems, which started last May and crippled the system for months. The Government has pledged significant investment in the centre, in staffing and capabilities, along with new legislation giving it statutory powers and operational independence.

Brian Honan, chief executive officer of BH Consulting, said that Ireland, through the NCSC and other government agencies, regularly takes part in simulated exercises to determine their capabilities in the event of a major cybersecurity incident.

Exercise will identify Ireland's capabilities

“These exercises not only help identify technical issues and capabilities that may need to be addressed, but also how effective we are as a nation in cooperating with other countries, particularly those within the EU, in the event of a major cybersecurity incident,” he said.

“These exercises can focus on specific industry sectors — such as aviation, as was the case in 2018 — or on geopolitical concerns such as how the EU would react to a major cyberattack in the event a conflict between Ukraine and Russia should occur. As with many aspects in life, practice makes perfect and this is particularly so in the cybersecurity world.”

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