European banks to increase cyberattack defenses amid Russia-Ukraine crisis

Banks across the euro zone are being told to increase their cyber defenses with the region’s regulator saying the issue should be a top priority amid heightened geopolitical tensions.

“We are asking [banks] to strengthen their cyber regime measures and look at a potential increase in attacks and the danger of these attacks going forward,” Andrea Enria, chair of the European Central Bank supervisory board, told a news conference on Thursday, according to Reuters.

“We’ll also flag the attention of banks in relation to the potential worsening of global tensions that could indeed trigger more attacks.”

Speaking to CNBC’s Annette Weisbach later on Thursday, Enria said the ECB, the central bank of the 19 EU nations which have adopted the euro, is putting “more and more attention on the ability of banks to ensure their security.”

“It’s a difficult area,” he said, adding that the central bank needs more people with the right skills to monitor cyberattacks. “We are putting increasing attention to these areas and indeed we expect banks to to strengthen their defenses.”

A report from Reuters on Wednesday, citing two unnamed sources, said that the ECB had been preparing banks for possible Russian-sponsored attacks. Speaking to CNBC, Enria said the ECB thinks “there is a concern” regarding cyberattacks more broadly, but did not elaborate on specifics.

On Russia and the potential for sanctions if tensions on the Ukrainian border escalate, Enria flagged the direct exposure of some European banks to Russia and the Ukraine, but said it is “not a great element of concern” as they tend to be relatively contained and funded locally.

Moscow has denied that it plans to invade neighboring Ukraine, but has moved around 130,000 soldiers, tanks, missiles, and even fresh blood supplies to the border. The Kremlin is demanding that Ukraine is never permitted to become a member of the NATO military alliance, and has also said it wants the organization to roll back its presence in Eastern Europe.

The New York Department of Financial Services issued an alert to financial institutions in late January, warning of retaliatory cyber attacks should Russia invade Ukraine and trigger U.S. sanctions, according to Thomson Reuters’ Regulatory Intelligence.

Hackers with links to Russia have been accused of several large cyberattacks in the past including the infamous SolarWinds hack on the U.S. in 2020, but the country did not accept any responsibility.