German cybersecurity chief sacked over alleged Russia ties

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Berlin (AFP) – Germany’s cybersecurity chief was sacked on Tuesday after a satirical TV show accused him of having ties to Russian intelligence agencies, with the country on high alert over possible Moscow sabotage activities.

Arne Schönbohm, head of the Federal Office for Cyber ​​Security (BSI), has been at the center of fierce speculation since the popular show accused him of having contacts with Russia in early October.

He has now been relieved of his duties “with immediate effect,” a spokesman for the Interior Ministry told AFP on Tuesday, citing “the allegations uncovered and widely discussed in the media” as one of the reasons.

The spokesman said that the allegations had damaged “the necessary public confidence” in Schönbohm as head of the agency.

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“This is even more true in the current crisis situation of Russian hybrid warfare,” he added.

In the ZDF satirical program, Schönbohm was accused of having contacts with Russian secret services through a Cyber ​​Security Council Germany association he co-founded in 2012.

One member of this association, Berlin-based cybersecurity firm Protelion, reportedly operated under the name “Infotecs GmbH” until the end of March.

According to the report, it is a subsidiary of the Russian cybersecurity company OAO Infotecs, which was founded by a former employee of the Russian secret service KGB.

According to other German media reports, Schönbohm had been in contact with Germany’s Cyber ​​Security Council until recently, and on August 24 the Ministry of the Interior approved a request to speak to the association.

The spokesman for the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that all allegations against Schönbohm would be “thoroughly and vigorously examined and subjected to a detailed assessment”.

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“Big Trouble”

The cybersecurity chief will be “presumed innocent” in the meantime, he said.

The Handelsblatt had reported that there was “great anger” in the government about the allegations.

A planned joint appearance by Schönbohm and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser to present a report on German cyber security in 2022 was canceled last week.

Commenting on the scandal at the time, Faeser said Germany was “vulnerable” to cyberattacks, “particularly due to the threat of Russia’s war.”

Europe’s largest economy has repeatedly accused Russia of online espionage attempts in recent years.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a 2015 cyberattack that crippled the computer network of the Lower House of the German Bundestag, leaving the entire institution offline for days while it was being repaired.

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Russia denies being behind such actions.

Tensions between Russia and Germany have escalated since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

The BSI warns that companies, individuals and critical infrastructures are at risk of being hit by Russian cyber attacks.

Last week, the rail network in the country’s north was temporarily paralyzed by what Deutsche Bahn described as “sabotage,” with some officials pointing the finger at Russia.

Important communication cables were cut in two places, causing rail traffic to be interrupted for three hours and creating travel chaos for thousands of passengers.

Moscow is also suspected of being behind explosions last month that triggered leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany.

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