EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

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(Brussels) – The European Union adopted powers to punish those outside the bloc who launch cyberattacks that cripple hospitals and banks, sway elections and steal company secrets or funds.

EU ministers meeting in Brussels said the 28-nation group would now, for the first time, be able to impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in such attacks.

“The Council (of EU countries) established a framework which allows the EU to impose targeted restrictive measures to deter and respond to cyberattacks,” it said in a statement.

It added that sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a “significant impact” on its target.

The goal is to bolster the security of EU institutions, firms and individuals against what Britain called an increase in the “scale and severity” of cyberattacks globally.

“This is decisive action to deter future cyberattacks,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after Britain and its EU partners drafted the measures.

“For too long now, hostile actors have been threatening the EU?s security through disrupting critical infrastructure, attempts to undermine democracy and stealing commercial secrets and money running to billions of euros,” Hunt said.