Georgia’s foreign ministry announced on Thursday (20 February) that a massive cyber-attack had taken place against its state institutions and media, and that investigations have shown that Russia was responsible for it.
“On 28 October 2019, a large scale cyber-attack was launched against the websites, servers and other operating systems of the Administration of the President of Georgia, the courts, various municipal assemblies, state bodies, private sector organisations and media outlets. As a result of the cyber-attack, the servers and operating systems of these organisations were significantly damaged, severely affecting their functionality”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.
Up to 15,000 state, private and media websites were taken out by hackers and replaced by an image of former Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili and the caption ‘I’ll be back’.
2000 Georgian websites defaced with Saakashvili pic & "I'll be back"… Raising the spectre of Saakashvili is useful to a few people at home and abroad. https://t.co/se0moiBMTY
— David Osborn (@david_osborn) October 29, 2019
Georgia, a country with an ancient culture, was a Soviet republic, but now wants to join NATO and the EU. A 5-day war with Russia in August 2008 depleted the country of 20% of its territory – Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are de facto under Russian control. Saakashvili, who now lives in exile, was the president at that time, and many blame him for provoking a war the country could not possibly win.
Cyber-attacks in other countries from the former Soviet sphere of influence have been traced back to Russia.
From diplomatic sources, EURACTIV was aware that the Georgian authorities would make the announcement about the cyber-attack once they had gathered evidence about its origin.
“The investigation conducted by the Georgian authorities, together with information gathered through cooperation with partners, concluded that this cyber-attack was planned and carried out by the Main Division of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”, the Ministry of Foreign affairs stated.
Meanwhile, the United States and the UK said in separate statements that the attack was carried out by a unit of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency known as Unit 74455 and Sandworm.
In the past, Sandworm was named by a US cyber-intelligence firm for attacks against Ukraine, as well as for targeting the election campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron with email phishing tricks and attempts to install malware on the campaign site.
“The United States calls on Russia to cease this behaviour in Georgia and elsewhere,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, adding that Washington would provide assistance to Georgia to help improve the country’s ability to fend off such attacks.
We stand with #Georgia in condemning Russia’s cyber attack against its people and institutions. Russia must immediately cease this behavior in Georgia and elsewhere. The stability of #cyberspace depends on the responsible behavior of all nations. https://t.co/4RnWrSOlBp
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 20, 2020
Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, said: “The GRU’s reckless and brazen campaign of cyberattacks against Georgia, a sovereign and independent nation, is totally unacceptable.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the Government of Georgia had determined that Russia was behind the cyber-attacks. “I condemn such malicious activities”, he said.
📰 NEWS: The UK, Georgia and international partners have exposed Russia’s military intelligence service as being responsible for significant cyber-attacks against Georgia last year.
— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) February 20, 2020
The European External Action Service had given no reaction by the time of publishing of this article.
Russia has denied involvement in penetrating Georgian government websites.
“Russia did not plan and is not planning to interfere in Georgia’s internal affairs in any way,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko told Russian news agencies.
(Edited by Benjamin Fox)