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German Military Exposed: Russian Media Leaks Top-Secret Talks


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In a recent turn of events, Russian media have disclosed sensitive discussions involving senior German military officials regarding assistance to Ukraine, escalating tensions with Russia. The leaked recording, resulting from a security breach, underscores the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures and heightened vigilance in safeguarding confidential information. Especially in the realm of international diplomacy and defense strategy. In this week’s Cyber Security Insights we learn more about the ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.

Top Secret Talks Exposed

On March 2, 2024 German public broadcaster ARD reported that German defense authorities had begun an investigation into top secret talks between senior German military officials that was intercepted by Russia. Russia’s state-run Russia Today (RT) leaked a recording of the meeting causing a security breach and major embarrassment for the German military. The leak appears to have been caused by a senior German military officer connecting to the meeting from an unsecured line in his hotel room. German Chancellor Gerhard Scholz took the matter seriously and said an investigation was under way.

Figure 1. RT Editor-in-Chief Posts to Telegram. “As we promised, we’re going to release audio conversations of German officers discussing how to bomb the Crimean Bridge.”

Online Meeting Leakage

RT published an online meeting of the German military meeting on February 19, 2024. The 38-minute audio recording and transcription which was attended by four senior Luftwaffe officials, including General Gerhartz, who discussed the targets, impact and delivery methods of Ukraine’s use of the Taurus cruise missile. According to German media, the meeting referred to training of Ukrainian soldiers and an attack on the Kerch (aka Crimean) Bridge which links Crimea to mainland Russia, as well as to allied operations, such as British forces supply of cruise missiles and operations in Ukraine.

Ukraine has already been provided with missiles jointly developed by France and Britain, but has requested Germany to provide the Taurus cruise missile due to its longer range. German Chancellor Scholz remains reluctant to supply the Taurus out of concern that it could lead the country becoming directly involved in the war.

RT’s editor-in-chief claimed on social media that the leaked meeting was evidence that Germany was planning to attack Crimea, based in part on discussions about the Kerch Bridge attack.

Figure 2. Kerch Bridge Connecting Mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula

Cause Of the Leak

Russia did not provide details on how RT obtained the audio of the meeting, however Germany’s defense minister stated the leak was caused by one of the participants using an insecure line while attending the online meeting from a hotel room in Singapore.

The intercepted meeting used Cisco’s Webex conferencing app which the defense minister stated is used by government agencies with enhanced security measures hosted on German army servers. An investigation ruled out a breach of German communications systems and the possibility that spies secretly participated in the meetings but found a participant had dialed in via an insecure line.

In addition to using the Webex app installed on your PC or smartphone, participants can attend Webex meetings by calling a phone number provided by the Webex server. Therefore, it has been suggested that the eavesdropping may have targeted the vulnerable public phone connection which is outside of Webex’s encryption measures.

At the time, military personnel from around the world gathered in Singapore for an international air show. Russia’s intelligence services are known for targeting international conferences, and in this case were successful causing a major security breach and embarrassment for the German military.

German and Allied Reactions

On March 2, German Chancellor Gerhard Scholz told the visiting Vatican that the leak of the meeting to Russia was a “very serious matter” and that it would be thoroughly investigated. A government spokesperson also described the leak as a “hybrid disinformation attack” by Russia aimed at sowing discord between Germany and its allies.

Speaking to a TV station, Mr Kiesewetter, a conservative member of the German opposition, warned that further recordings may have also been intercepted and may be leaked at a later date for Russia’s benefit, namely to prevent the cruise missile delivery by Germany.

NATO countries have not publicly criticized Germany for the leaks. Britain, for example, has said it was a matter for Germany to investigate and will continue to work with Germany to support Ukraine.

Russia’s Reaction

Shortly after the leak by state media RT, the Russian government strongly criticized Germany. The Kremlin stated the leaked recordings shows Germany’s armed forces were discussing plans to launch strikes on Russian territory and questions if this was government policy or Scholz loss of control of the situation. Russia has repeatedly accused the ‘collective west’ of using Ukraine to wage a proxy war against Russia, however NATO says it is helping Ukraine to defend itself against a war of aggression.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the German military’s “blatant self-exposure” and had revealed “cunning plans.” “Our old rival, the Germans, became our nemesis again” Russian Security Council Vice President Dmitry Medvedev wrote in a Telegram post.

Summary

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Germany has provided Ukraine with military assistance second only to that of the United States. This has made Germany a major target in Russian espionage. Under these circumstances, a senior German military officer connected to an important meeting using an unsecured line, which led to a serious incident in which the contents of the meeting were exposed by Russia. This incident exposed the lax handling of confidential information by the German military and made it clear that even seemingly simple operations can lead to serious incidents. This also highlighting the importance of security awareness when connecting to the internet and in this case utilizing online security channels to ensure encryption when needed.

About our Cyber Security Insights

This blog post is part of our The Cyber Security Insights, that are released several times every month, providing invaluable insights into the evolving threat landscape. Crafted by NTT Security Japan Inc. Consulting Services
Department’s OSINT Monitoring Team and NTT Security Sweden’s Incident Response Team, our content includes expert analysis on recent breaches, vulnerabilities, and cyber events. Stay ahead of the curve with our timely updates and actionable intelligence, ensuring your digital assets remain secure in an ever-changing environment.

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