According to recent reports in media, Lithuania is forming civilian rapid response teams for cyber operations. Deputy Minister of Defense Edvinas Kerza says three such teams are being created in Vilnius currently.
Militarization of conscience
Edvinas Kerza said each cyber team will comprise 20 people with work experience in IT-sector. He promised that before joining the teams, everyone will undergo sophisticated examination for loyalty. “They can be invited for training and quite feasible cyber protection operations. It is an experiment to reveal whether volunteer starting army service can cooperate in the field of cyber security,” Kerza says. The shortlisted candidates passed a weeks-long basic course and were enlisted to the army of Lithuania as militiamen. “Concerns about cyber-attacks have grown after recent wave of ransomware attacks, like WannaCry,” Kerza recalls.
Andrey Starikov, deputy editor-in-chief of RuBaltic.ru, told EADaily formation and strengthening of cyber troops is a common trend for the world’s armed forces. “As the number of hackers on state service grows, special cyber security units exist almost in any country. According to data of Zecurion, Russia, top five countries with the highest expenditures on cyber troops are U.S., China, UK, South Korea, and Russia. The Baltic states cannot but respond to such trends. Moreover, legends about Russian hackers that ‘elected’ Donald Trump still generate mass psychosis in the West. However, ‘cyber fears’ of the Baltics is not news. Yet in 2007, when Estonian-Russian relations grew tense over removal of The Bronze Soldier (Soviet statue symbolizing victory over Nazism), Tallinn blamed Russia for a series of cyber-attacks on websites of Estonian government, parliament, ministries and mass media. A year later, a NATO cyber security center was opened in the country. In the same year, Vilnius voiced similar claims to Moscow. Lithuania accused Russia of attacks on government websites, which was allegedly connected with Seimas voting to ban public demonstration of the Nazi German and Soviet symbols,” the expert says.
Starikov recalls that Lithuanian leadership keeps militarizing the public life and conscience of the population. Earlier Defense Minister of Lithuania Raimundas Karoblis told about an initiative of introducing “cyber call-up” – an alternative compulsory army service for the people having IT knowledge and skills. The Latvian Defense Ministry generated even a better idea. They are going to reveal talented IT-specialists and grow “white hackers” – cyber security specialists testing computer systems. All these initiatives little help increasing the country’s security and look to settle certain propaganda tasks: develop the image of a victim of Russia’s “hybrid aggression,” further militarize the society, involving wider sections of the population into the ‘conflict with Moscow.’ Note that “cyber militia” is also an expenditure item for the officials whose appetites are growing,” the expert says.
Who is the cracker?
Last September, Lithuania hosted the first national cybersecurity exercises, Cyber Shield-2016. The three-day event brought together over one hundred representatives of more than forty local state-run departments and research organizations.
“First and foremost, the goal of this exercise is to develop a closer cooperation in cyber security among Lithuanian institutions and to train representatives of those institutions so that they could have experience necessary for countering a real-life cyber threat,” the then Minister of National Defense Juozas Olekas said. According to him, Lithuania has increased efforts in the field after unknown hackers attacked and cracked website of Lithuania’s Armed Forces Joint Staff on June 10, 2015. Crackers left information on the website saying that the goal of the NATO Saber Strike exercises in Baltics and Poland allegedly aimed to prepare for annexing Kaliningrad. The text was deleted later. Afterwards, since January 2016, National Cybersecurity Center opened in the country. Besides, Lithuania passed a law legalizing disconnection of any user from the web, if he is suspected of “unlawful user activity.”
Last April, the websites of the president and the parliament of Lithuania were attacked. President Dalia Grybauskaitė rushed to make cyberattack allegations against Russia. Then, a dozen of government institutions and their systems of information technologies, websites of the parliament, presidential staff, government, most of the ministries, tax inspectorate and other institutions were attacked. Experts said those large-scale cyberattacks were rather “amateurish,” but they were surprised with the resources of the attack organizers – the so-called botnet and other expensive resources.
Noteworthy that the so-called World Congress of Crimean Tatars was to be broadcasted through online-platform of the Lithuanian parliament then, but the broadcasting was broken. Lithuanian leadership took that circumstance as a solid fact to blame Russia.
Basically, any hacker-attack or failure in the networks in Lithuania is linked to Russia. For instance, seven months ago, Head of Lithuania's National Cyber Security Center Rimtautas Cerniauskas said “Russian spying equipment was found on three computers at one of the government institutions yet in early 2016.” He did not specify if it were ministries, departments or other institutions. He said the Russian intelligence got access to secret information, passwords, confidential documents. However, Cerniauskas did not tell journalists who specifically was the recipient of that important information. The damage amount was not reported either. It is not known how and who connected the spying equipment to the computers and whether they were punished. Cherniauskas called it “confidential information”.
Reason for mockeries
Quite lately, special services of Lithuania said they exposed and rendered harmless the persons behind cyber-attacks of last April. Lithuania waited with bated breath to hear the names of the “Kremlin agents.” Police representative Andžejus Roginskis said it were two citizens of Lithuania and a foreigner. The people were not satisfied with such poor information, indeed. Notwithstanding the pressure, Prosecutor General’s Office responded to the request of BNS agency saying: “The suspects are three: one is the citizen of Denmark. All suspects are minors. Pretrial investigation in the foreign citizen’s case will be submitted to competent authorities in Denmark for criminal prosecution.”
Investigation in the cases of the other two minor Lithuanians was completed on March 31 and the criminal case was submitted to the regional court in Utena. The minors faced racket charges. Other details are still kept in secrecy due to what Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office calls nuances of cooperation with Danish colleagues. In fact, investigation in the case of the young citizen of Denmark is still underway.
Recall that the recent report by Lithuania’s State Security Department highlighted that “Russian hackers, including Russian intelligence and security services constitute the most serious threat to the country.” In this light, the reports on detained minor-hackers prompted a sneering response by local users. “Those minors are, for sure, FSS Colonels!” “Those guys are Russian spies!” These are just few of total mockeries on the web.
Earlier this July, Edvinas Kerza and NATO Assistance Secretary General Sorin Ducaru signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cyber defense cooperation.
“As threats in cyber space grow, ensuring cyber security is among Lithuania’s key priorities of today, therefore it is important to develop international cooperation in the area both with international organizations, primarily NATO, and individual countries,” Kerza said. “Cyber security is a part of collective defense, we have to be ready to defend cyber space together with NATO allies if there is a threat.”
Construction of “digital bastion” on the border with Russia is underway…