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The EU is pushing the development of a strategy to protect Europe from cyber-attacks and disruptions.

The guidelines - which amount to a disaster recovery procedures for nations instead of individual corporate entities - are designed to cover incidences such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, hackers, rupture of submarine telecom cables or hardware failure.

Recent cyber-attacks on Estonia and Georgia caused considerable disruption to the smooth running of government and business services, focusing attention on the problem of keeping internet-connected systems up and running when disaster strikes.

Cyber-attacks that accompanied civil disturbance in Estonia means that the country's parliament had to shut down its email system for 12 hours, while two major Estonian banks were forced to suspend internet services.

The EU Commission points out that the smooth running of IT and communications systems is becoming more important to the economy in general. For example, e-commerce transactions amounted to 11 per cent of total turnover of EU companies in 2007. Three in four (77 per cent) of businesses accessed banking services via internet and two-thirds (65 per cent) of firms used online public services.

Communications networks also play a key role in infrastructure services such as energy distribution, water supply and transportation.

Readiness in dealing with potential disruption varies widely across EU member states. The EU Commission is seeking to use its influence to persuade member states to make the EU as a whole "more prepared for and resistant to cyber-attacks and disruptions".

It wants businesses and public administrations to consider five factors in developing a disaster recovery strategy:

  • Preparedness and prevention: encouraging the exchange of best practices between member states and businesses.
  • Detection and response: supporting the development of a European information sharing and alert (early warning) system.
  • Mitigation and recovery: developing national and multinational contingency plans and regular cyber-security exercises involving security incident response and disaster recovery.
  • International co-operation: debate on setting EU priorities for the long term resilience and stability of the interweb. Developing principles and guidelines that might be subsequently promoted internationally.
  • Establishing consistent criteria for critical infrastructure protection across the EU.

The Commission has asked European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) to take on the initiative by fostering a debate on dealing with IT disasters between EU member states and big business. More background on the EU's evolving cyber-security strategy and disaster response strategy can be found here. ®

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