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The State of Cybersecurity in the EU: Assessing the Current Threat Landscape and Strategies for Improvement

As cyberattacks become more frequent and complex, cybersecurity has become a matter of increasing urgency for European organizations in any sector. The introduction of new technologies such as the cloud and edge computing, the shift to remote work enforced by pandemics, and a lack of qualified professionals and necessary skills have all had a fundamental effect on cybersecurity today. In response to these challenges, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and the CERT of the EU institutions, bodies and agencies (CERT-EU) have jointly released an alert on sustained activity by particular threat actors. Meanwhile, experts from more than 50 European institutions offer their strategic recommendations in the ‘Roadmap for Cybersecurity in Europe’, a document that covers nine fundamental dimensions that affect cybersecurity. In this article, we will examine the current state of cybersecurity in the EU, the key challenges, and the strategies for improvement.

The Threat Landscape: Sustained Activity by Specific Threat Actors

The alert released by ENISA and CERT-EU warns of sustained activity by specific threat actors, which they believe poses a significant and ongoing threat to the European Union. Recent operations pursued by these actors focused mainly on information theft, primarily via establishing persistent footholds within the network infrastructure of organizations of strategic relevance. The alert notes that these threat actors use a wide range of techniques, such as spear-phishing, exploiting software vulnerabilities, and social engineering, to gain access to their targets.

The alert highlights the importance of applying the recommendations listed in the joint publication ‘Sustained Activity by specific Threat Actors.’ These recommendations include measures such as improving network segmentation, monitoring network traffic, and deploying multi-factor authentication. By applying these recommendations in a consistent and systematic manner, ENISA and CERT-EU remain confident that organizations will reduce the risk of being compromised by these specific advanced persistent threats (APTs), as well as substantially improving overall cybersecurity posture and resilience.

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The Challenges: New Technologies, Remote Work, and Skills Shortages

The alert released by ENISA and CERT-EU highlights the ongoing challenge posed by advanced persistent threats. However, other factors have also had a fundamental effect on cybersecurity in the EU. One of the key challenges is the introduction of new technologies such as the cloud and edge computing, which have expanded the attack surface and created new vulnerabilities. For example, cloud-based services can be accessed from anywhere, making it more difficult to control access and monitor network traffic. Edge computing, which involves processing data on devices at the edge of the network, can also introduce new vulnerabilities if these devices are not properly secured.

The shift to remote work enforced by pandemics has also created new challenges for cybersecurity. Remote workers may use their own devices, which may not be properly secured or have outdated software. Remote workers may also connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks, making it easier for threat actors to intercept their communications. Moreover, remote work can also make it more difficult for organizations to monitor network traffic and detect potential threats.

A lack of qualified professionals and necessary skills is another challenge facing the EU’s cybersecurity. According to a report by the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), the shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals is a serious problem that is hindering the ability of organizations to protect themselves against cyber threats. The report notes that this shortage is expected to worsen in the coming years, as demand for cybersecurity professionals is increasing faster than the supply of qualified candidates.

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Strategies for Improvement: The Roadmap for Cybersecurity in Europe

The Roadmap for Cybersecurity in Europe, produced within the Concordia project, offers strategic recommendations from more than 50 European institutions on how to improve cybersecurity. The roadmap covers nine fundamental dimensions that affect cybersecurity, showing where we need to focus today. These dimensions include research and innovation, education, economics and investment, law, certification, and standardization. It also emphasizes the need for building a community of experts, institutions, and other centers to help ensure a secure and resilient European cybersecurity system.

The roadmap notes that the focus on technological aspects of cybersecurity is no longer sufficient. Instead, a more holistic approach is needed, one that encompasses not only technology but also education, policy, and regulation. For example, the roadmap calls for the development of a European cybersecurity certification framework that would provide a common standard for evaluating the cybersecurity of products and services. It also recommends the establishment of a European cybersecurity competence center that would serve as a central hub for research, training, and innovation.

One of the key recommendations of the roadmap is the need to invest in education and training programs to address the skills shortage in cybersecurity. This includes not only training programs for professionals but also cybersecurity education in schools and universities. The roadmap notes that a lack of cybersecurity awareness among the general public is also a significant problem that needs to be addressed.

The roadmap also emphasizes the importance of collaboration and cooperation among different stakeholders in the cybersecurity ecosystem. This includes not only public and private organizations but also researchers, policymakers, and regulators. The roadmap notes that a lack of collaboration and information sharing can hinder efforts to detect and mitigate cyber threats.

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Conclusion

The threat landscape for cybersecurity in the EU is evolving rapidly, with advanced persistent threats posing a significant and ongoing risk. The introduction of new technologies, the shift to remote work, and a shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals are also significant challenges. However, there are strategies that organizations can use to improve their cybersecurity posture and resilience.

The Roadmap for Cybersecurity in Europe offers a comprehensive set of recommendations for improving cybersecurity across the EU. These recommendations include investing in education and training programs, developing a European cybersecurity certification framework, and establishing a European cybersecurity competence center. Collaboration and cooperation among different stakeholders in the cybersecurity ecosystem are also essential.

It is clear that cybersecurity is a critical issue that requires the attention and investment of organizations and policymakers across the EU. By taking a holistic and collaborative approach to cybersecurity, the EU can improve its cybersecurity posture and better protect its citizens, organizations, and critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

References:

  1. EU professionals can comment on the new roadmap for European cybersecurity. EIT Digital. (2023, February 14). Retrieved from https://eit.europa.eu/news-events/news/eu-professionals-can-comment-new-roadmap-european-cybersecurity
  2. EU cyber security agencies warn of ‘significant and ongoing threat’ from specific APTs. Continuity Central. (2023, February 16). Retrieved from https://www.continuitycentral.com/index.php/news/technology/8231-eu-cyber-security-agencies-warn-of-significant-and-ongoing-threat-from-specific-apts

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