EU cybersecurity agency says variation between countries adds risk

More work is needed to get EU CERTs up to scratch

Problems with national or governmental Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) could be weakening cybersecurity in the European Union, the E.U.'s top cybersecurity agency is warning.

In two reports published on Monday, ENISA (European Network and Information Security Agency) said that there are large discrepancies between CERTs in different E.U. member states.

"When exchanging information on incidents with their peers in other member states, it is still common that partnering teams do not act upon information provided in a timely and professional way," says the report. ENISA recommends that a standardized approach for information exchange could solve this problem.

The need for a functional network of national or governmental CERTs in Europe by the end of 2012 has been set out in several E.U. official documents, but in many countries the teams "do not have an adequate level of maturity" says ENISA.

The biggest challenge for national CERTs is bridging the gap in capabilities between one member state and another, according to the reports. The main problems are a lack of clarity of governmental CERT roles and responsibilities, lack of funding, and missing resources such as highly specialized IT, legal and PR experts, said Udo Helmbrecht, executive director of ENISA.

About half of the E.U. countries have national cybersecurity strategies and more than 80 percent employ between six and eight full-time staff. This is the minimum level necessary for acceptable services, says ENISA. "However, in smaller teams, staff have multiple roles, which is a barrier to specialization. In particular, national or governmental CERTs report difficulties in hiring digital forensics and reverse engineering specialists."

Of course, money is tight in many member states and so ENISA advises CERTs to "actively look for alternative funding sources" such as E.U.-financed projects and commercial projects.

The agency also suggests that national or governmental CERTs could draw up bilateral or multilateral agreements with outside stakeholders such as ISPs, private sector companies and law enforcement authorities to collaborate and share information on cybersecurity incidents.

"It is very important to eliminate the duplicate tasks and activities when there are several national or governmental CERTs in a country," it advised.

"Most national or governmental CERTs have a clear role and mandate, yet the details vary greatly across the E.U." says one report. Half the CERTs contacted for the report said they have a formal direct line of accountability within the national executive, another 40 percent said they have an informal role.

In the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Ireland, CERTs are hosted by national cybersecurity centers that have at least some responsibility for the country's national cybersecurity strategy. In Finland, Bulgaria and Romania, CERTs are overseen by national telecommunications regulatory authorities. The Danish GovCERT is hosted by the Danish Ministry of Defence, and NorCERT is a part of Norway's national security agency, while Italy and Cyprus have no official national or governmental CERT in operational mode.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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