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The Commission is laying out a vision to build a new Joint Cyber Unit to tackle the rising number of serious cyber incidents impacting public services, as well as the life of businesses and citizens across the European Union. Advanced and coordinated responses in the field of cybersecurity have become increasingly necessary, as cyberattacks grow in number, scale and consequences, impacting heavily our security. All relevant actors in the EU need to be prepared to respond collectively and exchange relevant information on a ‘need to share', rather than only ‘need to know', basis.
First announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in her political guidelines, the Joint Cyber Unit proposed today aims at bringing together resources and expertise available to the EU and its Member States to effectively prevent, deter and respond to mass cyber incidents and crises. Cybersecurity communities, including civilian, law enforcement, diplomatic and cyber defence communities, as well as private sector partners, too often operate separately. With the Joint Cyber Unit, they will have a virtual and physical platform of cooperation: relevant EU institutions, bodies and agencies together with the Member States will build progressively a European platform for solidarity and assistance to counter large-scale cyberattacks.
The Recommendation on the creation of the Joint Cyber Unit is an important step towards completing the European cybersecurity crisis management framework. It is a concrete deliverable of the EU Cybersecurity Strategy and the EU Security Union Strategy, contributing to a safe digital economy and society.
A new Joint Cyber Unit to prevent and respond to large-scale cyber incidents
The Joint Cyber Unit will act as a platform to ensure an EU coordinated response to large-scale cyber incidents and crises, as well as to offer assistance in recovering from these attacks. Today, the EU and its Member States have many entities involved in different fields and sectors. While the sectors may be specific, the threats are often common – hence, the need for coordination, sharing of knowledge and even advance warning.
The participants will be asked to provide operational resources for mutual assistance within the Joint Cyber Unit. The Joint Cyber Unit will allow them to share best practice, as well as information in real time on threats that could emerge in their respective areas. It will also work at an operational and at a technical level to deliver the EU Cybersecurity Incident and Crisis Response Plan, based on national plans; establish and mobilise EU Cybersecurity Rapid Reaction Teams; facilitate the adoption of protocols for mutual assistance among participants; establish national and cross-border monitoring and detection capabilities, including Security Operation Centres (SOCs); and more.
The EU cybersecurity ecosystem is wide and varied and through the Joint Cyber Unit, there will be a common space to work together across different communities and fields, which will enable the existing networks to tap their full potential. It builds on the work started in 2017, with the Recommendation on a coordinated response to incidents and crises - the so-called Blueprint.
The Commission is proposing to build the Joint Cyber Unit through a gradual and transparent process in four steps, in co-ownership with the Member States and the different entities active in the field. The aim is to ensure that the Joint Cyber Unit will move to the operational phase by 30 June 2022 and that it will be fully established one year later, by 30 June 2023. The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, ENISA, will serve as secretariat for the preparatory phase and the Unit will operate close to their Brussels offices and the office of CERT-EU, the Computer Emergency Response Team for the EU institutions, bodies and agencies.
The investments necessary for setting up the Joint Cyber Unit, will be provided by the Commission, primarily through the Digital Europe Programme. Funds will serve to build the physical and virtual platform, establish and maintain secure communication channels, as well as improve detection capabilities. Additional contributions, especially to develop Member States' cyber-defence capabilities, may come from the European Defence Fund.
Keeping Europeans safe, online and offline
Important steps were also taken over the last 6 months under the EU Security Union Strategy to ensure security in our physical and digital environment. Landmark EU rules are now in place that will oblige online platforms to remove terrorist content referred by Member States' authorities within one hour. The Commission also proposed the Digital Services Act, which puts forward harmonised rules for the removal of illegal goods, services or content online, as well as a new oversight structure for very large online platforms. The proposal also addresses platforms' vulnerabilities to amplifying harmful content or the spread of disinformation. The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union agreed on temporary legislation on the voluntary detection of child sexual abuse online by communications services.
Work is also ongoing to better protect public spaces. This includes supporting Member States in managing the threat represented by drones and enhancing the protection of places of worship and large sports venues against terrorist threats, with a €20 million support programme underway. To better support Member States in countering serious crime and terrorism, the Commission also proposed in December 2020 to upgrade the mandate of Europol, the EU Agency for law enforcement cooperation.