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Responding to cyberattacks: Prospects for the EU Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox

Security & defence / DISCUSSION PAPER
Paul Ivan

Date: 18/03/2019

Malicious cyber activities have become a growing threat, a fact made more visible by several massive cyberattacks that have taken place in recent years. While the EU has been active in the field of cybersecurity for a number of years now, it is only recently that the EU member states have made efforts to develop an EU cyber diplomacy toolbox to respond to cyberattacks. This work needs to be finalised so that the Union’s toolbox can become fully operational.

The paper analyses the development of the EU's diplomatic response to malicious cyber activities, the challenges that hamper a common EU response and possible ways to address these challenges. It focuses on issues linked to the attribution of cyberattacks and on the most powerful diplomatic instrument to be adopted to respond to them: the use of cyber sanctions.

To overcome the hurdles to collective action and achieve unanimity in the EU Council on a common diplomatic response EU member states and EU institutions should do more to develop common threat assessments and a shared culture of attribution of cyberattacks.

One of the key enablers for collective diplomatic action at EU level will be the necessary strengthening of cyber capabilities. While achieving unanimous agreements on attributing cyberattacks to non-EU countries will continue to be challenging, EU countries will still be able to use most of the framework’s tools. The most powerful ones, such as the public attribution of attacks or the use of sanctions, will have to be wielded carefully.

Not reacting to cyberattacks is likely to encourage similar or even more damaging behaviour. The EU’s Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox is intended to play a role in the calculations of potential aggressors, acting as a deterrent against bad behaviour. While the cyber diplomacy toolbox is complementary to actions by individual member states, operating together would allow EU member states to be more credible and send a stronger message.

Read the full paper here

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