How Germany Can Counter Russian Hacking

A Cyber Program for Berlin

Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Agency, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin, November 2016. Hannibal Hanschke / REUTERS

Like the rest of the world, German officials followed with interest the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and of the email account of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Now it’s Germany’s turn. On December 1, WikiLeaks published 2,420 documents detailing the cooperation between German and U.S. intelligence agencies that had been exfiltrated from the Bundestag's Special Investigative Committee on the U.S. National Security Agency. The incident came on the heels of a cyberattack on Internet routers supplied by Deutsche Telekom that took nearly one million German household Internet connections offline in late November. Whereas the attack that led to the Wikileaks dump was very likely the work of Russian hackers, the source of the attack on Deutsche Telekom remains unknown.

The episodes enraged German officials and set off calls for Berlin to harden Germany's cybersecurity as the country prepares for federal elections in 2017. On November 29, Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany's federal intelligence agency, warned in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Russia would attempt to use cyberattacks to manipulate that contest. The same week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that Russian cyberattacks had become part of everyday reality. “We have to learn to live with it,” she said.

Germany's intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been overhauling their cyber-capabilities to better protect against, detect, and respond to attacks.

Recognizing the extent of the problem is only the start. German officials should also fortify the defenses of government-adjacent institutions, such as political parties; shift the focus of their responses from the content of leaks to the motive of leakers, emphasizing that cyberattacks violate the digital rights of German citizens; establish an alliance with Western governments and technology firms to ward off digital subterfuge; develop stricter standards for the Internet of Things; and work to enlist ordinary Germans in the fight to protect themselves.  


In recent months, as Berlin has prepared for next year's election, the degree of Russian

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