After Macron hack, German cyber agency reaffirms warning to parties

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government has warned political parties to step up their defenses against hacking after last week’s leak of emails belonging to Emmanuel Macron’s campaign before he was elected French president.

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The leak, two days before the election, failed to sway the outcome and was ignored by mainstream media as it came during a news blackout before the start of voting. But it has revived concerns about possible interference in Germany’s federal election on Sept. 24.

“We responded to recent reports about a cyber attack on the Macron campaign by repeating our outreach to the political parties about cyber risks related to the elections and to offer them concrete recommendations to improve their information technology (IT) security,” said Arne Schoenbohm, president of Germany’s federal cyber security agency, the BSI.

A spokesman for the agency said the latest recommendations focused on encryption, protection of passwords, and steps to harden computer systems and networks.

The U.S. cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint last week said an initial review of the Macron leaks indicated that APT 28, a Russian hacking group also known as “Fancy Bear”, may be behind the latest Macron leak, though evidence was not yet conclusive.

Some experts say APT 28, which also targeted the German parliament in 2015 and Hillary Clinton during the U.S. presidential campaign, is linked to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service.

Schoenbohm said the BSI took the risk of cyber attacks linked to German elections “very seriously.” In March, he confirmed repeated attacks linked to APT 28 that were directed at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and other parties.

“The events in France show once again that the risks are real and that such attacks are taking place. It also shows that the steps that BSI initiated in September 2016 were appropriate and need to be expanded,” he told Reuters in a statement.

He said there were no signs of unusual activity or manipulation during recent regional elections in the states of Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, but the BSI was working closely with the federal election supervisor, political parties and lawmakers to bolster security.

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency last week accused Russian rivals of gathering large amounts of political data in cyber attacks that the Kremlin might decide to put to use ahead of Germany’s September elections.

Moscow denies it has in any way been involved in cyber attacks on the German political establishment.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Trevelyan