The European Commission saw an uptick in attempted attacks in 2016
The European Commission saw an uptick in attempted attacks in 2016

The European Union is an increasingly attractive target for attackers, according to officials. In 2016 alone, the European Commission reported a 20 percent uptick in cyber-attacks against its servers. The 110 separate attempts that the European Commission servers were targeted with might not prove a new threat, but certainly constitutes an increased one.

EU security commissioner, Sir Julian King told The Financial Times on Sunday that "These threats are persistent; they are aggressive, and more and more dangerous and potentially destructive."

Though the security systems largely worked in 2016, the Commission is stepping up its security procedures in line with the increased threat. It will be increasing cooperation with NATO and officials have been instructed to start using email encryption. The subject is also reportedly being discussed at high levels within the Commission.

One can only imagine the kinds of valuable data within the European Commission that cyber-criminals or hacktivists might want to get their hands on, but there is yet another aspect which might yet appear even more troubling. King added that the most damaging threats “undermine the trust in our democracies”.

The news comes in the aftermath of an election which was fraught with what is widely believed to be the interference of state backed cyber-actors. A series of breaches on the Democratic Party and the Clinton presidential campaign are believed to have been performed on the orders of the Kremlin.

How much the attacks actually affected voting is not known. However, Donald Trump is days from being inaugurated as US President and the US political establishment is still arguing over the details of the attack.

That example has ignited fears in Europe over further political manipulation in upcoming European elections. This year, France and Germany, the two powerhouses of the European Union, will hold elections along with the Netherlands. Angela Merkel in particular has been touted as a target as she seeks a fourth term in this year's election. The head of France's National Information System Security Agency told press that “the attackers who influenced the American election could try to do it again in France. We must be prepared.”

Emily Orton, director at Darktrace told SC that “Sir Julian King is right that cyber-attackers are undermining trust in our democracies. The persistent hacks against EU systems that have been reported reflect the industrialisation of cyber-attacks. And it's not just the scale of attacks that is rising, but also the sophistication of the attacks.”

“At a time when public confidence in governments and political institutions is low, the real battle of cyber-security is to protect the integrity of our data systems.”