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EU agency ‘in frontline of escalating cyber war’

The European Union’s Maritime Safety Agency is to upgrade security as part of what it says is “the escalating cyber war”  with “an array of hacker and criminal organisations”, writes Justin Stares

Lisbon-based EMSA, which hosts sensitive ship-tracking software, says it “in the frontline” and fending off attacks designed not only to penetrate systems and steal data, but to damage infrastructure and reputations.

The remarks are contained in the latest EMSA work programme for 2014, which refers to an “escalating cyber war currently being fought between governments and agencies on one hand an array of hacker and criminal organisations on the other”. This year there will be “further extension and consolidation of EMSA’s intrusion detection and prevention systems”, the report reads.

The agency declined to say whether hackers had successfully penetrated its systems. “We are not in a position to answer your question,” said a spokesman. “This information is confidential and not to be disclosed.”

EMSA’s main job is to support the European Commission’s effort in the field of maritime safety and environmental protection. It also hosts the international exchange for the Long Range Identification and Tracking system (LRIT), which helps keep track of the positions of all merchant ships around the world.

LRIT was designed by the US as an anti-terror tool. Washington transferred control of the system to EMSA in 2011, reportedly because Europe was at the time considered politically neutral. An offer from Russia to host the system was turned down, allegedly on the grounds Russia could not be trusted. “If the Russians get angry they turn things off,” an EMSA source said – a reference to energy supply problems triggered by political disputes between Russia and its neighbours, such as Ukraine.

Despite the transfer, the US was however understood to have kept control of the LRIT backup system.

It its attempt to remain neutral, EMSA has also refused requests for ship position information from NATO, the western military alliance.  In 2011, the agency refused more than one NATO request to provide details of the positions of EU-flagged ships off the coast of Somalia, where both NATO and a EU-sponsored force have been fighting a piracy scourge. EMSA said no on the grounds that not all NATO members are European Union Member States.

Follow Justin on Twitter @justinstares

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