Cyber attack on European Commission reported

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A serious cyber attack on the European Commission was reported yesterday evening (23 March) as EU leaders prepared to gather in Brussels for a two-day summit during which military intervention in Libya is expected to take centre stage.

The cyber attack was described as "serious" by a Commission spokesperson, who said that EU High Representative Catherine Ashton's services appeared to have been particularly affected.

The attack took place late on Wednesday, hours before the two-day summit in Brussels at which economic issues were meant to dominate the agenda. However, developments in Libya are now expected to take centre stage (see 'Background').

It remains unclear if the cyber attack is related to the Libya situation.

Amid security concerns the Commission has reportedly shut down external access to e-mails. This morning, the Commission website appeared to be working normally again.

The European Parliament also reported problems. MEPs and officials have been asked not to open an email with the following text in the subject line: "CONFIRMATION DE VOTRE IDENTITE. VERIFICATION DE VOTRE COMPTE  E-MAIL."

With the Western military operation in Libya still at full speed, eyes are now turning to Tripoli as the possible mastermind of the cyber attack.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi warned of reprisals on 17 March, when the UN Security Council voted to authorise the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

"Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya's counter-attack," said Gaddafi.

Yesterday's incident marked the second time since the beginning of this year that the EU has suffered from cyber attacks. Last January, the European Union locked all accounts in its carbon market after a security breach of its Emissions Trading Scheme, the hub of a 92-billion-euro global market, following the suspected theft of about seven million euros' worth of emissions permits from the Czech Republic's carbon registry.

France's finance ministry suffered a cyber attack in December which targeted files on the G20 summit held in Paris last month.

EU and NATO authorities have been rethinking their common approach to telecommunications network protection in the wake of a massive cyber attack carried out against Estonian public and private strategic infrastructure in May 2007.

In March 2009, the European Commission published a new communication aimed at "protecting Europe from large scale cyber-attacks".

A Commission spokesperson told the Brussels press that the origin of the cyber attack was not Libya, but declined to provide further details, as the investigation was still ongoing.

He explained however that it was a "targeted attack" against the correspondence of "certain Commission officials". It also became known that all the Commission officials had been asked to change their email passwords, and that they were for the time being unable to access their official email accounts outside the Commission buildings.

In spite of the US-led military effort to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect the civilian population in Libya, yesterday (23 March) Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were reportedly fighting in several cities.

In response, coalition forces were targeting Libyan mechanised forces, artillery and mobile missile sites, US Rear Admiral Gerhard Hueber said. The coalition has flown 175 sorties in the last 24 hours, with the US flying 113 and other countries carrying out the remainder.

Gaddafi's compound in Ajdabiyah was subject to air strikes yesterday (23 March), Arabiya TV reported.

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