The cyberattack on Germany: Why now?

Published 08.01.2019 02:04
Updated 08.01.2019 08:00

Germany has been the target of a mass data attack. It appears that the data of hundreds of politicians, parliamentarians, journalists and other public figures has been stolen and their emails were hacked. The contacts, financial details and private chats of figures from different political parties were then posted on Twitter.

We know that cybersecurity is one of the most important dimensions of national security. It is hard to identify who exactly perpetrated the attack, and what its real aim was. At first glance, one may notice that one of the objectives was to damage the credibility of eminent political figures in the country. We do not know how much of the leaked information is true, and what the level of disinformation is. One of the objectives of the perpetrators was certainly to manage the perceptions of public opinion, especially of Germany. It seems some people tried to show the German people that their politicians are untrustworthy.

To make a nation believe that their politicians cannot be trusted is an important attempt at sabotaging the democratic political process. Moreover, the perpetrators proved that they can hack anyone anytime, and that, one day, they can also potentially attack the country's companies, security agencies, public electricity and water distribution systems, or maritime or aerial transport systems.

In other words, a comprehensive cyberattack has the potential to paralyze an entire country in a matter of minutes. No one needs to send missiles to cities anymore, as one can immobilize an enemy country with just a few clicks. Underdeveloped countries, let's say in Africa, are paradoxically more immune to this kind of attacks. However, well-connected countries like those in Europe, the U.S., Russia or Japan are very vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The cyberattack that recently hit Germany was not powerful enough to paralyze the country, but it did create a sense of panic among the country's political elite. We know that many politicians have been targeted and their personal data is now at the hands of unknown attackers. We ignore of course for now whether or not this data will be able to ruin their careers or change the German people's political preferences. German security agencies were not able to prevent the attack, but they will perhaps be able to stop the spread of sensitive information. We can guess that those who perpetrated this attack have a lot of information that they have not yet shared on Twitter. In other words, a number of German politicians are probably having a hard time sleeping these days. They are vulnerable to all kinds of blackmail. Furthermore, even if the cyber terrorists are independent individuals, they are perfectly capable of selling such information to foreign countries. This won't put Germany into chaos, but the German government will probably have to conduct delicate negotiations with many countries.

One of the interesting aspects of the attack is the fact that the extreme right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has not been targeted. Maybe because the attackers were members of this party. Or the attackers wanted to direct suspicion at the AfD. We can only imagine that Germany, and especially the German intelligence community, will not rest until they learn everything about this attack. They will probably thoroughly study the German far-right's international connections.

Let's hope they will also spend some time trying to understand why the far-right is getting more powerful in the country every passing day. The rhetoric against refugees, foreigners, immigrants, Turks and Muslims has certainly contributed to their rise. Let's hope the Germans ask themselves why they don't have another leader like Willy Brandt.

Germany will also probably try to figure out which country is mad at Germany, so much so that it perpetrated such an attack. Germany has probably angered a particular country or a group of countries to deserve this. It means the perpetrator country, or countries, now have very valuable information about Germany's strategic plans. The German government will have to take that into consideration in its future actions as well.

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