Moldova is working to step up cyber defenses to protect its critical infrastructure from rising threats amid the war in neighboring Ukraine.
Officials in the country of roughly three million people are planning overhauls to create basic cybersecurity rules and institutions. The plans include drafting new legislation in line with European Union guidelines, improving security in government offices and launching a new national computer emergency response team, or CERT, by the end of the year that would deal with cyberattacks on government and other essential services.
The main challenge for Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is finding qualified cybersecurity experts to fill new jobs, and money to pay them, authorities said.
After government and critical infrastructure in Ukraine was hit by cyberattacks in the weeks after Russia’s invasion this February, said Iurie Turcanu, Moldova’s deputy prime minister for digitalization, “The first question which came to our minds was: Are we prepared to face this challenge from a cybersecurity perspective? Are we ready with our business continuity plans? Do we have them at all?”
Moldova lacks government offices and expertise to fend off large-scale attacks, officials said.
Mr. Turcanu said attempted cyberattacks on the government have increased during the war, but there haven’t been any major hacks. Authorities were able to contain unsophisticated attacks that knocked out some websites for very short periods, he added.
Moldova’s new CERT would liaise with critical infrastructure providers, most of which are private companies, and coordinate with them and government institutions to respond to major cyberattacks, Mr. Turcanu said. Until now, Moldova has had a CERT that dealt only with attacks targeting the government and didn’t communicate with critical infrastructure operators.
Ransomware attacks targeting businesses in Moldova and other countries near Ukraine picked up in the months since the war started, said Chris Kubecka, founder and chief executive of Netherlands-based cyber-defense firm HypaSec, who has advised the Moldovan government on its plans.
Mr. Turcanu said he contacted officials in neighboring countries including Romania—which has close ties to Moldova—on Feb. 24, the day Russia’s attack on Ukraine began. In the spring, he asked the EU and the U.S. for help improving Moldova’s cybersecurity.
In May, the EU approved 8 million euros, equivalent to about $8.1 million, to aid Moldova’s cybersecurity infrastructure amid “the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.”
The U.S. has provided around $11 million in cybersecurity and anti-cybercrime assistance to Moldova since 2018 and is helping the country implement new legislation and create its first-ever national CERT, said Kent Doyle Logsdon, the U.S. ambassador to Moldova. “Russia’s use of destructive cyber activities as part of its unprovoked war against Ukraine highlights the importance for governments in the region and around the world to build cyber resilience,” he said.
Funding the CERT to hire enough experts and buy high-quality hardware to monitor for cyber threats will be expensive, Ms. Kubecka said. National CERTs typically juggle multiple crucial tasks at once and need to be well resourced, she added. “They have to monitor, do reports, also monitor the government back-end. And you’re getting hit by Russians,” she said.
Moscow has consistently denied launching cyberattacks.
“We need to know exactly what we’re doing in the next minute when we’re attacked,” Mr. Turcanu said. The government aims to staff the CERT with about 15 to 20 people and hire more cybersecurity experts for certain ministries.
Several countries offered to help Moldova with cybersecurity training, but a bigger issue is that cybersecurity staffing in various ministries and public offices has been diminished in recent months, in part because some employees left the country during the Ukraine war, he said. “Even with this many offers on training and capacity building, we still need people to train,” he said.
“They’re quite vulnerable,” Ms. Kubecka said. A cyberattack on Albania this month forced the government to shut down most websites and online services, signaling what hackers could do to other countries in Eastern Europe, she said.
Contacting one government office through the new CERT to communicate about cyber threats would be simpler than communicating with multiple regulators and ministries, said Carolina Bugaian, chief executive of Moldcell, a Moldovan mobile operator that is part of Nepal-based conglomerate CG Corp Global.
“Moldova is a small country with limited resources. It would be good to have a well-orchestrated plan of who is doing what,” she said. Moldcell has experienced an increase in attempted cyberattacks and phishing lures since Russia invaded Ukraine, and has stepped up cybersecurity awareness campaigns for employees, she said.
Write to Catherine Stupp at Catherine.Stupp@wsj.com
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