Cybersecurity in Hamburg more important amid rising attacks

14 March 2023
Perpetrators, risks and best protection

Nowadays, hackers are pouncing on all kinds of companies as well as Hamburg Airport, the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, the daily Hamburger Abendblatt, Aurubis metals and even the website of Hamburg Cemeteries, which manages graveyards across the city. Kaspersky Labs GmbH, a Russian manufacturer of antivirus software, defines hacking as "detecting and exploiting vulnerabilities in a computer system or network to gain unauthorised access to personal or company data”. Kaspersky was considered one of the leading providers of IT security at least until Russia declared war on Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has warned against using Kaspersky’s anti-virus software and noted in its 2022 report on IT security in Germany: "The already tense situation has exacerbated in the reporting period. The threat in the cyber space is higher than ever." The city-state of Hamburg is particularly vulnerable as many procedures are centrally controlled, according to Professor Volker Skwarek, HAW Hamburg, and cites traffic control as an example. "If you bring traffic lights in Hamburg to a standstill, you hit a nerve in the city. Hackers normally have to launch several attacks on cities and boroughs in a territorial state, but in Hamburg one attack on the main infrastructure is enough to bring everything down."

Two groups of hackers

But why would hackers want to bring traffic control to a standstill anyway? "Hack attacks are criminal offences," said Skwarek, who specialises in cybersecurity, and pointed to two main groups. Firstly, free hacker groups, who often act for personal, ideological or emotional reasons and secondly, state-backed hackers, whose attacks aim to destabile enemy nations, steal information or extort money through so-called ransomware attacks. The IT system's data is encrypted and decryption is promised for a ransom. "North Korea is believed to finance' 5 per cent of its gross domestic product of USD 40 billion through hacking and ransomware attacks," he said. 

Volker Skwarek, Professor of Computer Engineering and Cybersecurity at HAW

Dangerous phishing e-mails

Countries such as Russia and China are suspected of being behind state-sponsored attacks. "At least from a Western perspective... but foreign intelligence services, e.g., in the United States, Britain and Israel also hack." And of course, Germany's Federal Intelligence Service has its own specialized IT experts. SMEs are the main targets of phishing e-mails. And data theft through fake emails was an issue for around 62 per cent of SMEs surveyed for Commerzbank's 2022 report on "Cybersecurity in Companies". Months-long preparation goes into targeted, large-scale attacks on corporations or organisations, said Skwarek. "At first, there is a reconnaissance phase during which as much information as possible is gathered. Any user data obtained through phishing is then used to penetrate the system in the next stage. Hackers progress stealthily and the attacks can unfold in eight to ten phases before taking over the entire system."

No blanket security 

It is almost impossible to withstand such a sudden and determined attack. "There is no such thing as blanket security. No matter how much effort goes into security, it may not be enough and depends on the attacker." The key to fending off an attack might lie in costs. "The attack must be more expensive than the return," according to Skwarek. However, that strategy does not apply to terrorist-motivated attacks. "We have to be wary, but a bit more relaxed about the potential danger of cyber attacks and counter them with appropriate security measures," he stressed. Similar to car drivers, who cannot do without their seat belts, a functioning virus scanner should always be available in private and professional environments. When accessing public WLAN, care should be taken to use a virtual private network (VPN). More advice on preventing an attack or on "first aid" after an attack can be found on BSI's cyber security network.

Sources and further information

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