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EU law enforcement agencies prepare for major cyber attacks

Law enforcement agencies across the European Union are preparing for major cross-border cyber attacks, says Europol

Large-scale cyber attacks with serious repercussions in the physical world, such as crippling an entire sector or society, are no longer unthinkable, according to Europol.

To prepare for major cross-border cyber attacks, the EU Council has adopted an EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol that gives a central role to Europol’s European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3).

The protocol is part of the EU’s Blueprint for coordinated response to large-scale cross-border cyber security incidents and crises. It is designed as a tool to support the EU law enforcement authorities in providing immediate response to major cross-border cyber attacks through rapid assessment, the secure and timely sharing of critical information and effective coordination of the international aspects of their investigations.

The unprecedented WannaCry and NotPetya cyber attacks in 2017 underlined the extent to which incident-driven and reactive responses were insufficient to address rapidly evolving cyber criminal operations effectively, Europol said.

The newly adopted EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol determines the procedures, roles and responsibilities of key players both within the EU and beyond, including secure communication channels and contact points for the exchange of critical information as well as a coordination and de-confliction mechanism.

The protocol is designed to complement the existing EU crisis management mechanisms, said Europol, by streamlining transnational activities and facilitating collaboration with the relevant EU and international players, making full use of Europol’s resources. It further facilitates the collaboration with the network and information security community and relevant private sector partners.

Only cyber security events of a malicious and suspected criminal nature fall within the scope of this protocol. It will not cover incidents or crises caused by a natural disaster, man-made error or system failure.

Therefore, Europol said that to establish the criminal nature of the attack, it is fundamental that the first responders perform all required measures in a way to preserve the electronic evidence that could be found within the IT systems affected by the attack, which are essential for any criminal investigation or judicial procedure.

The protocol is a multi-stakeholder process with seven possible core stages from the early detection and the threat classification to the closure of the protocol. The protocol also includes emergency response coordination, early warning notification, the formulation of an operational action plan, and investigation and analysis.

“It is of critical importance that we increase cyber preparedness to protect the EU and its citizens from large-scale cyber attacks,” said Wil van Gemert, deputy executive director of operations at Europol.

“Law enforcement plays a vital role in the emergency response to reduce the number of victims affected and to preserve the necessary evidence to bring to justice the ones who are responsible for the attack,” he said.

As the EU Agency for law enforcement cooperation, Europol is mandated to support the endeavours of member states to detect, investigate, disrupt and deter large-scale cyber incidents of a suspected criminal nature.

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