Germany rolls out new cyber defence team

German Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen, during the opening ceremony of the new Bundeswehr cyber command. Bonn, 5 April. [Sascha Steinbach/ EPA]

Germany’s army was targeted 284,000 times by cyber attacks in the first three months of 2017. Yesterday (5 April), the Bundesrepublik’s new cyber defence unit was officially put into action. But its offensive capabilities are already under scrutiny. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The new commando unit is set to be 13,500 personnel strong by July. By comparison, its marines corps has around 16,000 soldiers and the air force 28,000.

Germany hopes to be a model for other European armed forces to follow in dealing with cyber attacks.

German lawmakers said that the new unit will focus on combatting Russian hacking. It will be led by Ludwig Leinhos, a seasoned veteran of the armed forces and the country’s highest-ranking cyber-general.

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Experts from Germany’s Cyber Security Council welcomed the development. President Philipp Saldern told euractiv.de that the new unit is “absolutely necessary” and could serve as a blueprint for other parts of the government.

But it won’t likely be a template for an EU cyber army anytime soon. EU countries use different IT infrastructure and programmes, so it, at the moment, seems unrealistic.

Even in Germany, its regions, municipalities and federal level authorities find it difficult to exchange information. Murders carried out by the National Socialist Underground at the turn of the century are a case in point.

The focus of the new unit is to defend Germany from cyberattacks but they are also trained to go on the offensive and launch attacks of their own. It is an aspect of the programme that has already been criticised by the country’s lawmakers.

The German Greens Konstantin von Notz insisted that “the army would need a parliamentary mandate to carry out cyberattacks”. His party has criticised the government for not dealing with the issue clearly.

SPD politician Hans-Peter Bartels also said that the Bundeswehr would need specific permission from the Bundestag.

The armed forces also face a recruitment dilemma. This year alone it needs around 1,000 new soldiers and 800 IT administrators for the new unit.

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But it is facing competition from the private sector and the higher wages on offer. Experts in hacking and defence can earn over ten times more than they would serving their country.

Von Saldern acknowledged that it is “difficult to inspire” experienced hackers to join the army. As a solution, he advised the armed forces to train their own personnel.

One European model could be the Estonian army, which trains its own talented IT specialists.