The place does not provide for visitors, the presence of army barracks, in the south of the city of Rheinbach, not far from Bonn, where the picturesque nature and tourist facilities, there are many secret places, affiliated with the German army, and its mission is to manage cyber operations, symbolized by the acronym ZCO, where German Defense Minister Christina Lambrecht was eager for a special visit.
From the outside, the buildings look similar to ordinary homes, but inside they are equipped with modern computers, trained to hack foreign computer networks, snatch information and manipulate data to their own advantage or shut down entire computer networks. What they usually do is often referred to as “hacking”, which is punishable by law, but what they do on behalf of and with the knowledge of the German state.
Christina Lambrecht, Minister of Defense, was briefed on the work during the visit, describing those who work there as “good hackers” which means: firstly, they are on the right and legal side, and secondly, they are “excellently trained, very enthusiastic and very creative “. “. The center includes about 200 information specialists working to search for vulnerabilities in enemy systems or to attack the information technology infrastructure of the German army and security services in Germany, with the aim of finding loopholes in their own defense, to draw attention to it .. Out of this army of workers only three women work in this field.
ZCO is part of the Cyber and Informatics Command, which was reorganized in 2017 with about two dozen locations across Germany, as well as a center near the city of Bonn, in North Rhine-Westphalia. In this center, workers operate and rely on the most prominent information technology available to the German army, working to protect security information systems. The center also benefits from the presence of the Federal Office for Information Security near it, as well as the Cyber Defense Center managed by the German Telecom Group.
The ability to do great damage
Even before Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the issue of information security was high on the agenda of politicians in Berlin. The increasing interweaving of the real and digital worlds allows attackers in cyberspace to inflict massive damage with relatively little effort. For example, attack on electricity or water supplies, aviation safety or traffic control. The parties participating in the governing coalition agree on the importance of equipping the German army and putting it in a position to exist successfully as a player in the cyberspace and intelligence space in collaboration with other federal authorities.
The Ukraine war highlighted the importance of this issue and raised concerns about threats of cyber attacks by Russian hackers. And in the law approved at the beginning of June on the special fund for the German army worth 100 billion euros, it was noted that “the federal government is presenting a strategy to improve security in cyberspace and information space.” As much as 20 billion euros of the allocated amount will be spent on the “digitization” sector. Over the next few years, a small portion of the funds will go to cyber warriors, while spending will focus on purchasing digital radios with encryption functionality in combat management and information systems, and providing a central data network.
German Defense Minister Christina Lambrecht in a meeting with cyber soldiers.
Special permission to hack
“We do not need 60 tons of steel like a main battle tank,” said the ZCO member, who wished to remain anonymous. Conversely, one of the dangers of the digital information society is that cybercriminals who have no more than a laptop can close hospitals or important centers for extortion and ransom money.
During her visit, the German Minister praised the need to provide an attractive working environment in this field, to attract expertise, which means the presence of incentives such as good wages during training, jobs and social security. The opportunity for electronic detection also attracts more young people, and when one of the participants was asked why he works here, he replied: “Here I can do what I want to do, but with legal coverage.” Those who work in this field have a special license to hack websites. However, this is done within parallel instructions by the Ministry of Defense. Any operation that requires infiltration of foreign networks must also first be approved by the Department of Defense, or at least by the level of state ministers. As for the question of how many times they did it and infiltrated the networks of foreign countries, no one in Rheinbach wanted to disclose it.
Matthias von Hein / AJ