German cybersecurity chief sacked following reports of Russia ties | Germany

Germany’s interior minister has sacked the country’s cybersecurity chief, after allegations he had turned a blind eye to a firm with links to Russian security circles.

Arne Schönbohm, the president of the German Federal Office for Information Security, was released from his duties with immediate effect on Tuesday, the news magazine Der Spiegel reported, citing security sources.

A spokesperson for the interior minister, Nancy Faeser, confirmed that Schönbohm would be barred from his office, as “necessary public trust in the neutrality and impartiality of his leadership as president of the most important German cybersecurity agency has been damaged”.

Schönbohm, who has since 2016 been in charge of the agencies overseeing the government’s computer and communication security, has come under scrutiny after his links to a Russian company in a previous job were highlighted by Jan Böhmermann, a German comedian, in a late-night satire show.

Before heading up the government’s cybersecurity agency, Schönbohm had helped found the similarly named Cyber Security Council Germany, a lobbying group registered as a voluntary association.

Among its membership roster, the Cyber Security Council Germany has since 2020 listed a Berlin-based cybersecurity firm, Protelion, previously known as Infotecs, a subsidiary of a Russian company founded by an ex-KGB employee who has received a medal of honour for his services from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

“The Russian company Infotecs that wants to protect our critical infrastructure from Russian cyber-attacks works with Russian intelligence services,” Böhmermann said in his programme, expressing incredulity. “Russian agents use Infotecs, which under the name Protelion GmbH sells German companies security software.”

While the programme did not allege that Schönbohm had continued to keep close ties with Protelion after becoming the government’s security chief, the revelation raised questions about a key official’s judgment at a time when concerns about the vulnerability of Germany’s critical infrastructure run high.

After Böhmermann’s programme, the Cyber Security Council Germany expelled Protelion from its list of members but rejected allegations of undue Russian influence as “absurd”.

Nonetheless, several companies, including the software firm TeamViewer and energy company E.ON, cancelled their membership of the group.

It further emerged that even though Schönbohm had been urged to distance himself from the Cyber Security Council Germany he had co-founded, the cybersecurity chief had appeared at the lobbying association’s 10th anniversary party as recently as early September.

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