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EU admits deep impact cyberattack in run-up to key summit

Internal docs suggest longer-term problem

The EU has admitted to having been hit by a deep, penetrating cyber-attack.

The admission comes days before an EU summit on economic strategies and the conflict in Libya are due to top the agenda.

Official details on the attack are scant. Eurocrats would only say that the Commission and External Action Service had been hit by an attack along the same lines as a recent assault on France's finance ministry in December, which, in turn, came weeks before a G20 summit in Paris. Around 150 of the French ministry's 170,000 computers were reportedly affected by that assault, which involved targeted email and malware.

The EU attack involves Microsoft Exchange servers and other systems.

"The Commission and External Advisory Service are subject to a serious cyber attack," Antony Gravili, spokesman for the security and information technology commissioner, told BBC News.

"We are already taking urgent measures to tackle this. An inquiry's been launched. This isn't unusual as the commission is frequently targeted."

In response to the assault, the EU has suspended external access to email and the institutions' intranet. The passwords of EU staff have been reset in wake of the assault.

El Reg has come into possession of internal emails suggesting that although the attack was detected last week, systems might have been compromised much longer than this, perhaps for months. An apparently extensive investigative and damage assessment effort is looking at the possibility that infected images had been installed.

Speculation, as with the Paris G20 cyber-attack, points towards state-sponsored Chinese hackers, even though there's no firm evidence to either support or disprove this theory.

Rik Ferguson of net security firm Trend Micro said that even though the issue only hit mainstream news reports recently, cyber-espionage attacks have undoubtedly been going on for years.

"International cyber-espionage and criminal theft of information for commercial advantage has been going on for several years now but only really caught the public imagination with the furore surrounding the Aurora attacks in 2009/2010," Ferguson writes. "Since that time, the mood for public disclosure of these attacks has rapidly changed and may contribute somewhat to the impression that they are increasing in frequency." ®

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