EU suffers major cyber-security scandal with publication of 1,100 secret cables

A view of a detail of a screen as part of an interactive installation that illustrates the 'big data' used by multinational and provided by its clients, in the German Spy Museum in Berlin, Germany, 1 March 2018. [Felipe Trueba/EPA/EFE]

A trove of hacked EU diplomatic cables made available to the New York Times revealed no major secrets, but displayed the remarkably poor protection of routine exchanges among EU officials.

Hackers accessed the EU’s diplomatic communications network for years, downloading cables that reveal concerns about the Trump administration, struggles to deal with Russia and China and the risk of Iran reviving its nuclear program, the New York Times reported late on Tuesday (18 December).

More than 1,100 cables from the EU’s COREU coded messaging system were supplied to the Times by security firm Area 1 after it discovered the breach, the newspaper said, adding that Area 1 investigators believed the hackers worked for the China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The cables include memorandums of conversations with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries that were shared across the European Union, according to the report.

One cable, the Times said, shows European diplomats describing a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Finland as “successful (at least for Putin).”

Another, written after a 16 July meeting, relayed a detailed report and analysis of talks between European officials and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was quoted comparing Trump’s “bullying” of Beijing to a “no-rules freestyle boxing match.”

A third, from 7 March, shows Caroline Vicini, the deputy head of the EU mission in Washington, recommending the trade bloc’s diplomats to describe the United States as “our most important partner” even as it challenged Trump “in areas where we disagreed with the US (e.g., on climate, trade, Iran nuclear deal).”

The hackers also infiltrated the networks of the United Nations, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and ministries of foreign affairs and finance worldwide, the report added.

A message dated 20 July quotes Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warning of illegal seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Azov Sea (this scenario became reality on 20 November).

EU calls for de-escalation after Russia fires on and seizes Ukrainian ships in Azov Sea

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday (25 November) after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, in a move that risks igniting a dangerous new crisis between the two countries. The EU has called for de-escalation.

This article will be updated with reactions.

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