Germany is considering laws that would let it respond actively to foreign cyber-attacks, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer as he presented a domestic intelligence agency report showing Iran was the latest power to ramp up hack attacks on German systems.
The agency also reported that the volume of cyber-attacks from China had seemingly dwindled as the number of acquisitions of German high-tech companies by Chinese firms had risen.
The report, released on Tuesday by the domestic intelligence service (BfV), said numbers of cyber attacks with a likely origin in Iran had been rising since 2014, with a sharp increase last year.
In response to the report, which highlighted cyber-attacks by Iran, Russia and China, Seehofer said the agency needed to acquire the power not just to track and clean up cyber-attacks but also to launch counter-measures.
“We will maybe need changes to the law on the question of how to react actively, not just investigating, but also actively (responding),” Seehofer said.
BfV chief Hans-Georg Maassen said the agency was also looking at the implications of Chinese acquisitions surging even as cyber-attack volumes fell.
“Getting a footing on the German market is not something for us to look at, but on the other hand we do look if we have the impression that behind the possible buyers there’s a foreign state that has political aims,” he told the news conference.
Attacks from Iran come at a particularly sensitive time for Germany, which is battling to preserve the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, from which the U.S. has withdrawn.
Germany is vocal with its concerns about Iran’s missile development activities, its backing for militant groups in regional conflicts, and spying activities.
In January, the foreign ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador to reprimand Tehran for spying on individuals and groups with close ties to Israel, calling such acts an unacceptable breach of German law.
The new intelligence report said cyber attacks believed to be backed by Iran were mainly aimed at the German government, dissidents, human rights organizations, research centers and the aerospace, defense and petrochemical industries.
“The observed cyber campaigns are developing such efficacy that the operations initiated and guided by intelligence agencies to gain information could pose a danger to German companies and research institutions,” the report said.
Russia, China and Iran constituted the biggest cyber and espionage threats to Germany, but other countries such as India and Vietnam, and even some western states, were also active.
Moscow continued to expend significant organizational and financial resources to target German political, economic, academic and technical targets, as well the military, through espionage and cyber activities, the report said.
Russian intelligence agencies continued their efforts to affect public opinion in Germany through propaganda and other means, and those were likely to continue even after the 2017 German election.
“Such disinformation and propaganda campaigns are meant to destabilize the German government and weaken its position as a proponent of extending (European Union) sanctions against Russia,” the report concluded.