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Moldova plans cyber overhauls amid war in neighboring Ukraine

Moldova is working to strengthen cyber defenses to protect its critical infrastructure from growing threats amid war in neighboring Ukraine.

Officials in the country of about three million people are planning overhauls to create basic cybersecurity rules and institutions. Plans include drafting new legislation in line with European Union directives, improving security in government offices and launching a new National Computer Emergency Response Team, or CERT, to by the end of the year that would address cyberattacks on government and other essential services.

The main challenge for Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is finding qualified cybersecurity experts to take on new jobs and the money to pay them, authorities said.

After the government and critical infrastructure in Ukraine were hit by cyberattacks in the weeks following Russia’s invasion in February, said Iurie Turcanu, Moldova’s Deputy Prime Minister for Digitization, “The first question that came to mind was: are we ready for this challenge from a cybersecurity perspective?Are we ready with our business continuity plans?Do we have them at all?

Moldova lacks government offices and the expertise to fend off large-scale attacks, officials said.

Mr Turcanu said attempted cyberattacks on the government had increased during the war, but there had been no major hacks. Authorities were able to contain unsophisticated attacks that took some websites down for very short periods of time, he added.

Moldova’s new CERT would liaise with critical infrastructure providers, most of which are private companies, and coordinate with them and government institutions to respond to major cyberattacks, Turcanu said. Until now, Moldova had a CERT that only dealt with attacks targeting the government and did not communicate with critical infrastructure operators.

Ransomware attacks targeting businesses in Moldova and other countries close to Ukraine spiked in the months after the war began, said Chris Kubecka, founder and chief executive of the cyber defense firm based in the Netherlands HypaSec, which advised the Moldovan government on its plans.

Turcanu said he contacted officials in neighboring countries, including Romania, which has close ties to Moldova, on February 24, the day the Russian attack on Ukraine began. In the spring, he asked the EU and the United States to help him improve Moldova’s cybersecurity.

In May, the EU approved 8 million euros, or about $8.1 million, to help Moldova’s cybersecurity infrastructure in the context of “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”.

The United States has provided approximately $11 million in cybersecurity and cybercrime assistance to Moldova since 2018 and is helping the country implement new legislation and create its first-ever national CERT, said said Kent Doyle Logsdon, US Ambassador to Moldova. “Russia’s use of destructive cyber activities in its unprovoked war against Ukraine underscores the importance for governments in the region and around the world to build cyber resilience,” he said. he declares.

Funding CERT to hire enough experts and buy high-quality hardware to monitor cyber threats will be expensive, Kubecka said. National CERTs typically juggle several critical tasks at once and need to be adequately resourced, she added. “They have to monitor, report, also monitor the back end of the government. And you get hit by Russians,” she said.

Moscow has always denied launching cyberattacks.

“We need to know exactly what we are doing within a minute of being attacked,” Turcanu said. The government aims to staff CERT with around 15-20 people and hire more cybersecurity experts for some ministries.

Several countries have offered to help Moldova with cybersecurity training, but a bigger issue is that cybersecurity staff in various ministries and public offices has been reduced in recent months, in part because some employees left the country during the war in Ukraine, he said. “Even with these many training and capacity building offers, we still need people to train,” he said.

“They are quite vulnerable,” Ms Kubecka said. A cyberattack on Albania this month forced the government to shut down most websites and online services, signaling what hackers could do to other Eastern European countries, he said. she declared.

Contacting a government office through the new CERT to communicate about cyber threats would be easier than contacting multiple regulators and ministries, said Carolina Bugaian, chief executive of Moldcell, a Moldovan mobile operator that is part of Nepalese conglomerate CG Corp Global.

“Moldova is a small country with limited resources. It would be nice to have a well-orchestrated plan of who does what,” she said. Moldcell has seen an increase in attempted cyberattacks and phishing lures since Russia invaded Ukraine, and has stepped up cybersecurity awareness campaigns for employees, she said.

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Write to Catherine Stupp at Catherine.Stupp@wsj.com

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