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EU to mobilize cyber team to help Ukraine fight Russian cyberattacks

The European Union will activate a team of cybersecurity experts to help Ukraine fight off cyberattacks from Russia, officials told POLITICO.

The EU’s Cyber Rapid Response Team includes around 10 national cybersecurity officials of six European countries — Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania — who can provide assistance to countries under cyberattack. The team falls under the EU’s defense cooperation program PESCO; it will be its first deployment.

The six “participating member states made a decision to activate the team,” said Margiris Abukevičius, vice minister at the Ministry of National Defence in Lithuania.

The move comes as Ukrainian cybersecurity services warned of incoming cyberattacks and threats on Monday, amid the conflict with Russia in the eastern part of the country.

Abukevičius said European officials will work out the details with Ukraine on how many and which experts it will devote to the operation. Sending the cyber team into Ukraine “is an option we’re considering,” Abukevičius said, adding it will depend on the type of support Ukraine requests.

The Ukrainian government on February 18 asked for the EU’s support of cyber military officials, in a letter to EU leaders seen by POLITICO.

Kyiv’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote to EU leaders that it would “welcome deployment to Kyiv” of the team of experts to evaluate “vulnerabilities of our key computer networks and systems.” Kuleba also requested “additional technical equipment and software for strengthening the cybersecurity infrastructure” from the EU.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday evening told reporters that the EU “will send a mission of experts to help Ukraine to face cyberattacks,” after meeting Kuleba at a meeting of European foreign affairs ministers in Brussels.

Kyiv’s plea for cyber reinforcements followed two major attacks on Ukrainian government networks in recent weeks. In mid-January, hackers posted messages on government websites and spread malware to wipe out data. Government websites were also taken down by an avalanche of traffic targeted at them last week, which Ukrainian security services called the “largest-ever” attack of its kind in the country.

The country has faced a barrage of major cyberattacks in recent years, many of which were attributed to Russian security services by Ukrainian as well as Western officials. The country suffered attacks on its elections in 2014 and on its energy grids in 2015 and 2016. The country was also the epicenter of a global malware outbreak known as “NotPetya” that quickly spread across the world, crippling multinationals like the Danish shipping giant Maersk, logistics giant FedEx, pharma company Merck and others.

Borrell already suggested the EU could offer cybersecurity support in mid-January, saying the bloc would “mobilize all [its] resources to help Ukraine to face these cyberattacks.”

The bloc has poured millions into schemes supporting Ukraine’s cybersecurity and digital infrastructure in past years. The country is seen as a front line in global cyber conflict and a testbed for intelligence services to deploy cyber-offensive and espionage tools.

This article has been updated.

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