International Cooperation Key to Cyberspace Protection, says SOA Head

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“We are proud to have excellent partners, primarily in NATO and the EU. Global experience, notably that of the United States, teaches us that it is important to be actively involved in the protection of critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks which have been increasingly threatening national security,” Markić said.

Last week, elite experts of the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) conducted a joint operation with SOA against malicious cyber activity on vital Croatian networks, commending the level of organisation, visibility, and proactive approach of SOA’s Cyber Security Centre, established in 2019.

Markić said the joint operation was conducted for several reasons.”The USA is a strategic partner with whom we share the same values and goals and with whom we have established the highest level of trust and reliability, so we did not hesitate when we learned of this programme. We acquainted the state leadership with it, and they supported us and approved the joint operation,” Markić said, noting that SOA has had ambitious goals ever since it established the centre.

“We have wanted to keep abreast of technological developments and see tangible effects on our cyber security. That is why we want to cooperate with partners who are the best in that regard. When we learned about the (USCYBERCOM) Hunt Forward programme, we expressed interest because the operation fit perfectly our needs.”

US experts provided their expertise and know-how in collaboration with Croatian agents in hunting for and preventing malicious, so-called APT (advanced persistent threat) attacks which are supported by countries that perceive NATO and the EU as a security threat or challenge.

“We were given the opportunity to work with a partner with the best capabilities and know-how and to share our know-how and work methods, check our systems and tools, and share the experience of interoperability, which is very important among allies. This type of cooperation is necessary because it enhances our reach and capabilities,” said Markić. 

“As a US ally and NATO member, Croatia is targeted by the same attackers as other Western countries so we were able to provide a new ‘hunting ground’ in the hunt for malicious actors and to share our experience and knowledge,” Markić said.

The operation completely met Croatia’s expectations, and the hunt was thorough and successful, with malicious attacks on Croatian state infrastructure having been prevented on several occasions, he said.

Markić underlined the importance of contacts and relationships established during the joint operation, noting that they would continue to be used to further develop partnership, interoperability, and information sharing.

During the operation, SOA defined areas that needed improvement and new goals in the development of the system and its capabilities, he said, noting that he was proud the operation had confirmed that Croatia had competent personnel, quality tools, and a well-organised system.

Speaking of cyber threats in Croatia, Markić said that they were not different from those in other NATO and EU member states.

“The intentions and interests of state-sponsored attackers are best evidenced by data which show that they mostly target the IT systems of the ministries of foreign affairs and defence, while in recent years we have also been registering attacks on other state institutions,” he said, noting that in 2021 the number of state-sponsored cyber attacks was up 40% from 2020.

In addition to the growing number of ATP attacks on state institutions in Croatia, there has also been an increase in such attacks on companies, Markić said, noting that the system had proven to be very good in responding to the threats and that joint operations such as the latest one would help further consolidate the system in the protection of the national cyberspace.


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