Amid bucolic lakes on the edge of Potsdam, the Prussian garrison city of Frederick the Great, sits the Hasso Plattner Institute, an IT research center named after the founder of the German software company SAP. Here Germany’s leading cyber warriors, industrialists, and intelligence officials gather once a year to talk about the digital threat landscape. Despite the splashy topic, discussions are not prone to sensationalism, focusing on relatively mundane areas such as breach notification requirements, technical norms and standards, and critical infrastructure classifications.
This year was different. Germany’s most senior federal intelligence officials presented a united front about the potential threat of Russian cyber-influence in their country’s September elections. Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV)—Germany’s domestic intelligence service—did not mince words: “We expect further attacks,” he said, adding that they recognized the threat as “a campaign being directed from Russia.” Maassen was referring to the Russia-attributed 2015 hack that hoovered up massive amounts of e-mails, correspondence, and sensitive information from well-placed members of the German Bundestag. The decision of whether to release the tranches of data “will be made in the Kremlin,” Maassen said, implicating President