Italy sets up cybersecurity agency after Russia warnings

ROME (AFP) – Italy has created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to protect itself from Russian “interference”.

The new agency was approved in a cabinet meeting late on Thursday (June 10).

It will need to “protect national interests and the resilience of services and essential functions of the State from cyber threats,” a government statement said.

Speaking in Brussels on May 25, following a European Union summit, Draghi said urgent action was needed.

“We need to strengthen ourselves a lot, especially in terms of cybersecurity, all of us, at national level and at EU level… because the level of (Russian) interference both with spies and with manipulation of the web has become truly alarming,” he said.

Earlier this year, an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

Luigi Martino, a research fellow at the ISPI think tank in Milan, noted that Draghi’s Russia warning also followed a ransomware attack by Russian hackers that forced the shutdown of the largest oil pipeline in the eastern United States.

“Russia is a problem, a serious problem,” he told AFP.

But there are threats from other “very aggressive countries, countries that do not share our values”, the expert said, mentioning China and North Korea, and the need to protect critical infrastructure and “our democracies from fake news or disinformation campaigns”.

The Italian government tasked the new body with developing strategies to prevent, monitor, detect and mitigate cyber attacks, and said it would act as the main point of reference on such matters with EU partners.

It was given its own budget and staff, in a “step change” from the status quo that sees cybersecurity matters handled in-house by the domestic intelligence services, ISPI’s Martino said.

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The agency, which according to media reports will employ around 300 people, will be directly controlled by Draghi and his security services adviser, ex-police chief Franco Gabrielli.

Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, has been quite active on intelligence matters since he was appointed in February to lead a national unity government, while reaffirming Italy’s traditional pro-US and pro-EU allegiances.

Last month, he named Elisabetta Belloni, a career diplomat, to lead Italy’s secret services. She is the first woman to occupy the post.

The premier still needs to appoint the head of the cybersecurity agency.

The Corriere della Sera named Roberto Baldoni, a computer engineering professor who already works on cybersecurity for intelligence services, and Nunzia Ciardi, head of the internet police, as top candidates.

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