Eight EU member states, including the UK and the Baltic countries, are pushing the bloc to impose sanctions on cyber-attackers as Europe seeks to strengthen its electronic defences.
The states are calling for the urgent creation of a legal framework to hit hackers, warning that a lack of tough action leaves the impression that cyber-attacks would go unpunished. The move comes amid growing concern at Russia's alleged malign cyber activities, with Western powers blaming Moscow for numerous acts of hacking and electronic interference.
In October, the Netherlands revealed dramatic details of a bid by the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, still commonly known as the GRU, to hack the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague.
"The pace of events has accelerated considerably," warns the confidential EU proposal seen by AFP, which is backed by the UK, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Finland, Romania and the Netherlands.
"This context makes the introduction of such a regime a pressing priority," the text says, urging EU leaders to formally back the proposal at their summit in Brussels this week. The paper warns that it is "only a matter of time before we are hit by a critical operation with severe consequences on the EU."
Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius told AFP that evidence from NATO and other cyber experts showed the problem was "becoming more and more intense. It's just a question of time whether it will be attacks on very vulnerable, even strategic segments, so we should develop our own armoury to withstand."
If approved, the sanctions regime would freeze assets held in the bloc by targeted individuals and ban them from travelling to the 28 member states of the EU.
The new proposal says this would impose a "meaningful consequence" on hackers and also signal at a political level that cyber-attacks will not be tolerated or overlooked.
The proposal may face resistance from some EU members who want to improve relations with Russia.
Editor: Aili Vahtla