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news 22 Feb 17

Montenegro on Alert Over New Cyber Attacks

The government in Podgorica has vowed to take action after a series of large-scale, sophisticated and coordinated hacker attacks on the websites of state institutions and pro-government media.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Photo: Pixabay.

The websites of the Montenegrin government and several state institutions, as well as some pro-government media, have been targeted with increasing numbers of cyberattacks in recent days, the government in Podgorica told BIRN.

“The scope and diversity of the attacks and the fact that they are being undertaken on a professional level indicates that this was a synchronised action,” the government said in a statement.

Official websites and network infrastructure came under serious attack for the first time on the day of the parliamentary elections in Montenegro on October 16, amid speculation that Russian hackers had a role in it.

The major new attack, which the government describes as more intense than the one in October, started on February 15 and peaked the following day, but continued over the weekend, the statement said.

It said that the authorities are working with colleagues from partner countries on locating and identifying the attackers.

“The fact that the attack targeted government and other state bodies’ portals, as well as some Montenegrin media, as it was done on election day in October, raises suspicion about the motives. The goal was to disable the sharing of information with the Montenegrin and international public," it added.

After several pro-government and state institutions' sites went down during the October elections, Montenegro announced plans to tighten cyber security to protect the government's data and records.

As BIRN reported in January, a new analysis by the Public Administration Ministry on the scale of the cyber threat to Montenegro showed that hacking attacks rose in 2016. Attacks were "much more serious and sophisticated", it said.

Over 200 attacks on websites, state institutions, online fraud and misuse of personal accounts were reported in 2016, compared with just six in 2012.

The authorities promised to investigate the background to all those attacks.

"The severity and sophistication of cyber-attacks affecting Montenegro during 2016 were reflected in the increased number of identified attacks on infrastructure and cyber espionage cases, as well as through phishing campaigns which targeted civil servants," the report said.

Amid reports that Russian hackers played a role in downing several websites on election day in Montenegro, the government in November also adopted new measures to tighten up cyber security.

It said it would strengthen the capacity of the police and intelligence services to prevent hacking after the attacks on election day highlighted the vulnerability of the entire system.

Montenegro's leaders have accused Russia of meddling in the election, which Moscow has denied. Some media close to ruling Democratic Party of Socialists claimed the attacks came from the same Russian hackers allegedly behind recent cyberattacks in the US.

In an article published on November 5, the US network NBC alleged that in the run-up to the Montenegrin election, Russia secretly funneled money to anti-NATO opposition parties and set up or co-opted media outlets to undermine former PM Milo Djukanovic’s pro-Western government.

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