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How Switzerland is preparing to fend off Russian cyberattacks

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11 Mar, 2022 Updated Fri 11 Mar 2022 15:11 CEST
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While there is no imminent military threat against Switzerland, the government is getting ready for another kind of warfare with Russia — a digital one. What is it and why it could impact the entire Swiss population?

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The Federal Council's sanctions against Russia after the outbreak of war in Ukraine expose Switzerland to retaliatory measures in cyberspace, according to a report by RTS public broadcaster.

Russia is reportedly angry about the neutral Switzerland’s support of EU measures and even placed the country on its blacklist of enemy nations.

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland on Russia’s ‘enemy country’ list – and what does it mean?

This is a new challenge for Switzerland, which has not been invaded in a conventional way in more 220 years, and has not fought in an armed conflict against another country even longer than that.

But now, “we can expect that the authorities and the [Swiss] financial institutions will be exposed and particularly targeted by the attackers", the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warned.

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What exactly is cyberattack and how would such action against Switzerland impact you?

In general terms, this means that hackers damage, disable or destroy a computer network or system.

They can steal personal information related to bank accounts, credit cards, health history, and a wide range of other sensitive details.

It is bad enough when this happens to individuals, groups, or businesses. But imagine the extent of damage if hackers shut down essential government and civilian infrastructure, disrupting critical systems like power grids.

This could cause electrical blackouts, paralyse telecoms, hospitals, and other vital operations.

Experts warn that the whole country would stop functioning and no household or individual would be left untouched.

“Critical infrastructures are always more exposed than other infrastructures so we have to take stricter measures”, according to Michael Frank, director of the Association of Swiss Electrical Companies.

"The entire range of cyberattacks is within Russia's capabilities, from blocking banking systems, shutting down power grids and cutting the water supply, to sabotaging communication networks", AFP reports.

READ MORE: How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already changed Switzerland

Is Switzerland sufficiently prepared to fight off such an attack from Russia?

NCSC said it is constantly analysing the situation in collaboration with the Federal Intelligence Service. But what about the industries that would be most impacted by such an attack?

According to RTS, their level of readiness varies:

Nuclear power stations

The Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (IFSN), a supervisory authority for the nuclear installations in Switzerland, reports that "Swiss nuclear power plants are currently not facing a significant increase in cyberattacks in connection with the war in Ukraine".

"But it goes without saying that attention has increased even further in the field of critical infrastructure, in particular in the energy sector, after the invasion of Ukraine”.

Swissgrid (electricity supply)

The national company responsible for the electricity transmission network, Swissgrid did not release details of its cybersecurity strategy but said it took all the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of the systems.

"Cybersecurity is of major strategic importance and is anchored in the company's objectives", Swissgrid said.

However, a report released by IFSN in July 2021, noted that Switzerland’s energy sector is “particularly ill-equipped when it comes to recognising attacks, reacting to them, and restoring their systems after an incident”.

But according to the report, the situation is slightly better in terms of prevention.

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Swisspower (industrial services)

A strategic alliance of 22 industrial services and regional energy management companies, Swisspower launched a cybersecurity centre three years ago. It is a "computer emergency response team to combat cyber threats specifically targeting the energy sector".

Following the flaws in its security that were revealed in June 2021 in the report of the Federal Office of Energy, Swisspower “has recognised that it must strengthen its resilience in the field of cybersecurity”, the company said.

Swiss Bankers Association

“Cybersecurity is an absolute priority for banks and they do everything they can to prevent cyber risks”, the umbrella organisation for Switzerland’s financial institutions said.

It added that Swiss banks "have always applied the most demanding standards in terms of security, in a concerted manner within the branch and in cooperation with the authorities ".

READ MORE: Could Switzerland defend itself against invasion?

 

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2022/03/11 15:11

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