European Parliament and hacking – a long history

 

The European Parliament is in a continuous struggle to protect MEPs' data (CC Dan Barpus via Flickr)

The European Parliament is in a continuous struggle to protect MEPs’ data (CC Dan Barpus via Flickr)

The hacking of at least 40.000 European Parliament (EP) emails does not appear to be a singular event, but the latest in a series of worrying IT security breaches.

On Thursday, the French website Mediapart reported that an anonymous hacker had accessed confidential emails of MEPs and other staff of the European Parliament (EP).

The attacker described the hacking as “child’s play” saying he only used “ridiculous” computer equipment.

The Austrian MEP Martin Ehrenhauser received a list with metadata of 40.000 emails from different institutions, including the European Parliament and the German Bundestag. According to Ehrenhauser, a connection between the list and the cyber attack is very likely.

The hacking sparked a discussion about how vulnerable the European Parliament is to cyber attacks.

MEPs criticised that the EP was using out-of-date software and did not allow its staff to encrypt their communication.

Security concerns not taken seriously

It is not the first time the EU’s IT services face claims of not doing enough to protect confidential data and communication.

In April 2011, the Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin reported to Klaus Welle, the EP General Secretary, that his private emails were accessed from another office within the European parliament.

The European Parliament has not reacted to his report down to the present day, Martin says.

In another case, Heiko Frenzel, author of Sicherheit-Online (security online), wrote in October 2011 that he had contacted the European Commission (EC) to inform them about 40 security loopholes on EU servers.

“The first ten hints, which were sent over a period of time, were simply ignored, some of them deleted unread,” Frenzel said.

According to Frenzel, it took the European institution almost one year, until September 2012, to deal with the breaches.

European Parliament should improve its IT services

EU leaders are pushing forward new legislation to protect citizens’ data amid continuous revelations about the NSA’s spying activities in Europe.

If the EP wants to be taken as a serious negotiating party in cyber security issues, it should, first of all, aim at improving its own IT services and making it impossible for hackers to access confidential data with elementary computer equipment.

European Parliament hacked – attacker describes stealing 40.000 emails as “child’s play”

European Parliament in Strasbourg

Vulnerabilty of EP computers has been know for years, MEPs say (CC United Nations Photo)

A hacker has accessed 40.000 emails of MEPs and other staff of the European Parliament (EP), triggering a discussion about how vulnerable the parliament’s IT systems are to simple cyber attacks.

The hacker told the French website Mediapart yesterday that he succeeded in breaching the EP’s security using elementary computer equipment and “a few bits of knowledge that everyone is capable of finding on the Internet”.

He said his operation was aimed at raising awareness of how vulnerable the EP’s computer systems are to simple cyber attacks.

Today Austrian MEP Martin Ehrenhauser received a USB key with metadata of 40.000 emails, including the subject line, date, sender, recipient and the file name of attachments, Spiegel Online reports.

According to the report, the list does not only contain emails from staff of the European Parliament, but also the European Commission, the German Bundestag, parties and lobby groups.

Although a connection between the file and the cyber attack has yet to be established, Ehrenhauser considers it very likely that the two events relate to one another.

Out-of-date software made communication vulnerable

The breach of the EP’s protection measures, which the hacker described as a “child’s play”, has started a discussion about the parliament’s IT security.

Dutch MEP Sophia in’t Veld said that problems with the EP’s computer systems had been known for years.

Marjory Van den Broeke, the head of the EP press unit, said the IT services were investigating how the attack could happen: “It’s a technical issue, depending on the outcome of the investigation, we’ll see if and what measures should be taken.

According to Spiegel Online, the IT systems in the European Parliament are using old software, with some of the computers running the 12-year old Windows XP.

Jan Phillip Albrecht, MEP and data protection expert, said the EP was using software without knowing if back doors were built in. “We have been campaigning to use open source software for ten years”, he said.

The EP’s IT services forbid MEPs to encrypt their emails, Spiegel Online reports.

While investigating NSA spying activities, the hacking attack shows how vulnerable the EP is not only to big intelligence services, but also to a single hacker sitting outside the parliament building in Strasbourg.

European Greens open online primary for Commission President candidates

EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)

EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)

The European Green Party has started its online primary election of candidates for President of the European Commission ahead of next year’s EU parliament elections – a process that could be distorted by the nature of online audiences.

In the Green primary election European citizens over the age of 16 can vote for one or two of four proposed politicians, who are then going to run as candidates for the President of the European Commission’s office in next year’s European Parliament (EP) election.

The four candidates the Greens have put forward for the primary election are José Bové from France, Monica Frassoni from Italy, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller both from Germany.

The Greens are the first European party to put forward such a process. According to the party, it is aimed at giving EU citizens a direct say:

„We believe running the Green Primary will help reduce the gap between political institutions and the citizens. Increasing direct citizen involvement can bring European politics closer to the people.“

The flaw of online audiences

However, the unrepresentative online audience could distort the primary’s results.

According to a study, almost 50 per cent of European Internet users are younger than 35 years, a group that accounts for a much smaller percentage of the European population.

Moreover, citizens in some member states use the Internet a lot less than those in others.

The Internet is a convenient platform to reach a big audience, but the European Green Party cannot expect to get a representative result from its primary online election.

In my opinion, the European Greens’ primary can be a model for the future and open a public pan-European debate, with both regional and demographic Internet gaps hopefully closing in the future.

Revolution of the electoral process

Next year’s EP election (22-25 May) is the first one since the Lisbon Treaty, which asked for a stronger integration of European citizens as political actors.

The European Commission (EC) has recommended that the European parties decide on top candidates for the EC President, the highest executive power in the EU.

The EC’s recommendation was based on a survey that suggested that 62% of Europeans think having party candidates for Commission President and a single voting day would help increase dropping turnouts (I wrote about this earlier).

The European people’s party, the biggest party in the current EP, has yet to name a candidate. The second biggest party, the Party of European Socialists, announced last week that Martin Schulz is going to run for them.

The European Green Party’s online primary election runs till 28 January 2014.

Free LUX Prize film screenings could be a model to revive Europe’s culture

Cinema

Cinemas will show LUX
Prize films for free (CC Fernando de Sousa via Flickr)

The three finalists of the European Parliament’s LUX Film Prize are being shown for free in cinemas across the 28 EU member states. However, other cultural sectors like theatre, dance and concerts could really benefit from free performance initiatives, as more and more Europeans turn their back on those events.

According to the European Parliament (EP), the LUX Prize aims at raising public awareness for “major EU policy areas as immigration, integration, poverty and violence against women”.

The former vice-president of the EP, Stavros Lambrinidis, said that the film selection would also influenced lawmakers because passing laws was not „a cold process“.

Europeans can watch the finalists for free in cinemas across Europe and vote for their favourite.

The three finalists for this year are:

  • The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix van Groeningen, Belgium, 2012): A love story of two very different characters who have to fight for their love when their daughter falls gravely ill.
  • Miele (Valeria Golino, Italy and France, 2013): Irene, the lead character in the film, secretly helps terminally-ill people to die in dignity, but a new “patient” challenges her believes.
  • The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, United Kingdom, 2013): Two boys growing up in an underprivileged town in Yorkshire start working for a local scrap-metal dealer after being excluded from school. Soon tensions develop among the three.

Other cultural events should also be free

The popularity of cinema explains why the EP sees the LUX Film Prize as a good possibility to reach a big number of Europeans. However, in my opinion, other cultural events should be awarded with similar free performances.

Europeans are turning their back on culture, with cinema being the only type of culture events more people attended in 2012 than in 2007, a European Commission study (PDF version) recently found.

According to the study, 52 per cent of the European citizens go to the cinema at least once a year, but only 35 per cent go two concerts (2 per cent less than 2007), 28 per cent to the theatre (four per cent less than 2007) and 18 per cent a dance performance or an opera (same as 2007).

The study identified money as one of the reasons why fewer Europeans attended cultural events.

Of course, free theatre or opera performances would be a lot more costly than free film screenings, but can the price to prevent Europeans from turning their backs on culture really be too high?

Are you going to any of the free LUX Prize screenings? Do you think the European Union should invest more money in theatre, dance and concerts?