CYBER threats to businesses and public services will be exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as remote working becomes more prevalent, according to the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

To combat the rising threats, including fake news and conspiracy theories – which have spread more than ever – the ECA said audit institutions across the bloc are pooling their work on cybersecurity after paying greater attention to the resilience of critical information systems and digital infrastructures.

The EU has a new cybersecurity strategy in place and its Contact Committee of supreme audit institutions (SAIs) yesterday published its third Audit Compendium on the subject, outlining their work in the field amid the growth of personal data theft, interference in democratic processes, including elections, and general disinformation campaigns to influence public debates.

They said cybersecurity was already “critical” for society before Covid-19 hit, and warned: “The consequences of the pandemic we are facing will further exacerbate cyber threats.

“Protecting critical information systems and digital infrastructures against cyberattacks has thus become an ever-growing strategic challenge for the EU and its member states. The question is no longer whether cyberattacks will occur, but how and when they will occur. This concerns us all: individuals, businesses and public authorities.”

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The ECA said European SAIs had stepped up their work on cybersecurity with a major focus on data protection, system readiness for cyberattacks and protecting essential public services, against a backdrop of the EU aiming to become the world’s safest digital environment.

With the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of this month, the UK has no representative on the ECA, however the UK Government has indicated that the Europe-wide GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation – will be retained in UK law “with technical amendments to ensure it can function” under it.

Klaus-Heiner Lehne, president of the ECA, said fake news campaigns will continue: “The Covid-19 crisis has been testing the economic and social fabric of our societies.

“Given our dependence on information technology, a ‘cyber crisis’ could well turn out to be the next pandemic.

“Seeking digital autonomy and facing challenges posed by cyber threats and external disinformation campaigns will undoubtedly continue to be part of our daily lives and will remain on the political agenda in the next decade.”

He added: “It is therefore essential to raise awareness of recent audit findings on cybersecurity across the EU member states.”