Dimitru Ciorba works at Moldova's Technical University, which trains students in digital security – something the country is increasingly in need of after several Russian cyberattacks. Photo: Daniel Díaz.

FUF-correspondents, Report

After the Russian cyber attacks: Moldova's future cyber protectors are being trained here

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Moldova has been subjected to several cyber attacks. To build the country's defenses against cyber attacks, students are being trained in information security at the Technical University of Moldova – an education that is needed more than ever. 

- This type of training is necessary, says Dumitru Ciorba with a serious face.

He is the dean of the Faculty of Computers, Informatics and Microelectronics at the Technical University of Moldova (UTD), in the capital Chisinau. The education he is referring to is the bachelor's program in Information Security, which gives students the opportunity to work as specialists in infrastructure networks or as security managers in IT companies. But the school's ambition is for the students to choose a profession that safeguards the country's digital security, as a cyber defender.

- The education was born out of necessity. There was a demand from the private and public sector to train competent people to deal with the rising number of cyber attacks in the country, says Dumitru Ciorba. 

Moldova in the virtual window 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Moldova has been subjected to a constant barrage of cyber attacks. Bloomberg has previously reported on how the presidential administration had its email servers hacked and how pro-Russian user accounts spread disinformation on social media. In addition to state apparatus, the IT and financial sectors are industries which are worst affected by the cyber attacks. The attacks risk destabilizing the country.

Russia's strategies on its hybrid war against Moldova leaked in early 2023, and a five-page document reveals how to stop its independence. The strategies also involve countering a "Westernization" of Moldova by disrupting contact with the EU and NATO. The Russian propaganda war, on the other hand, is something that has been experienced for a long time, even before the armed conflict broke out in Ukraine. And Moldova's capacity is not enough to defend the country against external threats.

- There is room for improvement, absolutely. We need to strengthen network infrastructure and increase personnel capacity within the country's cyber defense, but people are the main dilemma. Mistakes and errors are usually due to ignorance of the subject, explains Dumitru Ciorba.

The volatile curves show the amount of malicious objects in delivered emails in Moldova during a month. At most, 481 attacks took place on 30 May. Screenshot: Kaspersky Cyberthreat Real-Time-Map.

Moldova, which is Europe's second poorest country, receives some financial support from, among others, the EU, NATO and the American organization USAID. Last year, the EU contributed one crisis response measure of eight million euros to equip Moldova's digital defenses, as a result of the war in the neighboring country. Dumitru Ciorba emphasizes the importance of the university's role in the cyber war being waged against the home country.

- Both private and public data are vulnerable to attacks. We have a responsibility to improve Moldova's security by educating society in this area, he says. 

Capture the flag and scenario exercises 

The faculty building, which houses the roughly 100 program students at the university, looks like a post-Soviet relic from the outside, but on the inside it is modern with fresh premises. The program's various courses cover everything from cryptology to penetration testing of computer systems. In the first year, the students have to read a lot of mathematics, electronics and teamwork. In the second year, students learn about security policies, to focus on dealing with simulated scenarios of cyber attacks in the third and fourth years. They are also taught to carry out digital breaches by hacking local networks that they build themselves. 

The Faculty of Computers, Informatics and Microelectronics (FCIM) operates within the Technical University of Moldova and offers courses in systems and computer science, electronics and communication. Photo: Daniel Díaz.

— It is called a penetration test. Such a test could, for example, be hacking a Wifi system, explains Dumitru Ciorba. 

To encourage students in their studies, universities carry out so-called "Capture the flag"-competitions at national level. Different teams or individuals compete against each other in a simulated virtual environment. The goal is to find and exploit vulnerabilities in various computer systems and applications to "catch" flags, which consist of text strings or files. 

- You can win various prizes and money, but the performance is not something that is graded, says Dumitru Ciorba. 

"The partnership we have with other countries is very important for our university," says Dumitru and shows the wall with various countries and organizations that the school works with, including Sweden. Photo: Daniel Díaz.
The IT industry trumps the country's wine exports

Moldova is a major wine exporter, but surprisingly, turnover has fallen IT services have overtaken the country's wine sales. The IT industry pulled in close to $350 million in 2021 and accounts for 3,5 percent of Moldova's GDP.

The government wants to make the country attractive for a career in IT and thus retain the domestic workforce to make Moldova competitive on the world market.

- These companies offer job opportunities with good salaries that make it beneficial to stay and work in Moldova, explains Dumitru Ciorba.

Moldova has for a long time had problems with emigrating labor, which has created a vacuum in the IT sector. The Ministry of IT and Communications decided to establish the country's first IT park in Chisinau in 2018, where national and international companies share headquarters.

Moldova consists of only 2,5 million inhabitants. The country borders Ukraine in the East and Romania in the West. Map: Edited by Daniel Díaz in Mapchart.
Cyber ​​Security Academy backed by Sweden

Sweden is also involved and supports Moldova's work with cyber security through the program Future Technologies Activity (FTA). Thomas Alveteg, first secretary at the Swedish embassy in Moldova, explains that the support is about giving personnel in the public and private sector basic knowledge of IT security. 

- It's about reducing the risk of hackers taking over public systems and spreading misinformation. In order to contribute to ensuring continued democratic development in the country, it is important that authorities have the knowledge to protect themselves against this, explains Thomas Alveteg. 

The program will be set up at the university and is expected to be able to train 100 people at a time. 

Cyber ​​security

Cyber ​​security 

Involves the use of technology, methods and processes to preserve and protect data assets against damage, attack and unauthorized access. 

Source: The National Encyclopedia 

Cyber ​​attacks in the world 

In 2022, data breaches were estimated to cost around 4.35 million USD, which is the highest figure measured so far. The majority of attacks, 68 percent, consisted of ransomware (extortion virus, etc.). 

Source: IBM, The report of Statista 

Penetration test 

Penetration testing is a supervised simulation of a computer attack that helps identify how vulnerable software, networks and operating systems are to intrusion. 

Source: US Department of the Interior 

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