Security expert: State must learn from email hack – future cyber-attacks could hit infrastructure

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: CTK

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been the victim of a major security breach, with hackers infiltrating dozens of email accounts, including that of Minister Lubomír Zaorálek. Mr. Zaorálek says experts told him the “sophisticated” cyberattack was likely carried out by a state and resembled hacking of the Democrats in the US. Washington formally blamed Russia for that breach. To discuss the hacking of the Czech Foreign Ministry email, I spoke to Andor Šándor, a security expert who previously headed the country’s Military Intelligence.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: CTK
“I’m not surprised that something like that happened in our country. It would be naive to think that this country would not be the target of cyber- or hacking attacks, from either inside or outside the country.

“What surprises me is that the email correspondence of the minister himself and his deputies was not well protected.

“It should have been much better protected. Because they handle information that is vital for this country.”

Minister Lubomír Zaorálek says the hacking didn’t concern classified information. But could it perhaps have concerned sensitive information?

“Absolutely. It’s hard to make email where you only speak about unclassified information. How can you really make it work?

“I’m not surprised that the minister says nothing wrong happened. I couldn’t imagine him saying the opposite.

“But let’s wait and see what comes out of the special investigation.”

How serious is it, if – as he suggested yesterday – a state actor has been involved?

“Yes, he pointed the finger at Russia. He didn’t do it specifically, but he said it reminded him of an attack against the Democratic party in the US.

Andor Šándor,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“Obviously this is a serious problem. But we have to really be sure that the attack came from the country, or a body supported by the state.

“If we are 100 percent, or at least 90 percent, sure that it was done by a country, then we should really think about our defence. Whether we can do it ourselves or collectively within NATO remains a question for politicians to answer.”

But surely he wouldn’t have indicated it was Russia if he wasn’t completely sure?

“I don’t know who advised him. It’s so easy to point the finger.

“I’m not saying the Russians are lambs [laughs] and don’t do nasty things.

“But in cyber space there are many more attackers. Not only the Russians, but the Chinese and others.

“If the minister at this point is really sure that it was Russia, OK, hopefully we will find proof.

“But so far I don’t believe there is any proof that would let us say openly that it was the Kremlin that organised the cyber-attack against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

What lessons should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Czech government in general take from what has happened?

“We should take it really seriously. We should protect our communication lines accordingly.

“There’s a crypto system that can be used that is really perfect – and there is much more crypto software that can be used.

“We should be aware that cyber-attacks are a more and more serious threat to security and the vital interests of the people.

Photo: Czech Television
“You know, if information is hacked from any ministry, it’s a bad thing.

“But if people are hurt by a cyber-attack, let’s just say against a power station or the grid or whatever, it may cause trouble.

“If critical infrastructure is hit by cyber-attacks we may end up with the role of the state being broken up and some citizens really being hurt.

“And we may be… punished by the serious amount of money that it would take us to repair the damage caused by a cyber-attack.”