Vienna. The Austrian State Department’s IT systems were under a ‘serious attack’ suspected to be carried out by a state-backed threat group according to a joint statement from the Foreign Ministry (BMEIA) and the Ministry of the Interior (BMI).
“A coordination committee has been set up on the basis of the Network and Information System Security Act, and all relevant federal agencies are already active,” the press release says. “The problem was recognized very quickly and countermeasures were taken immediately.”
The attack was disclosed during late Saturday evening and, according to a Foreign Minister Peter Guschelbauer statement quoted by Austrian national public service broadcaster ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk), it was still active during Sunday.
Austria ill-prepared for such incidents
“The recent and ongoing hacker attack on the Foreign Ministry clearly shows how important cyber defense is and how little Austria is apparently prepared to ward off cyberattacks,” Austrian Parliament lower house member Robert Laimer said in a statement.
Laimer, SPÖ’s (Social Democratic Party of Austria) regional defense spokesman also added that Austrian’s Armed Forces should receive funding for cybersecurity training courses.
The Austrian Armed Forces urgently need the necessary basic funding to master the protection of critical infrastructure and cyber attacks. – Robert Laimer
This would allow it to intervene and help defend the country’s critical infrastructure against future cyberattacks attempting to either cause disruption.
“The fact that the Greens at their federal congress do not see the priorities for the Austrian Armed Forces in the national defense and that airspace security is secondary means that there are worries for the future of the Bundeswehr,” said Laimer.
The Greens hold a long anti-protection, anti-state policy as their political mantra to undermine national security of the republic, added a political observer. “So why are we surprised?”, he added.
The attack not only secured sensitive intelligence but also cause economic damage. Experts assess the potential for damage could be in the billions of Euros. Many leftist politicians who are ignorant about the implications of intelligence based cyber attack lack the comprehension of the impacts on the Alpine republic.
“They are either ignorant, plain stupid, or deliberately participating in undermining national economic security of everyone.”, said an expert from the Ministry of Interior.
The recent coup to overthrow a democratic elected government seems quickly forgotten but the implications on the national security was quickly felt. The hacking followed an attack against the UN in Vienna and construction companies a few years ago.
Suspected nation-backed cyber attack
“Due to the severity and the nature of the attack, it cannot be ruled out that it is a targeted attack by a state actor,” says the joint BMEIA and BMI statement. “The state protection mechanisms provided for this are active at all levels.”
This wouldn’t be the first time a European country was targeted by a state-sponsored actor seeing that the Russian hacking group tracked as APT28 managed to infiltrate the network of the German Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Chancellery, and the Federal Court of Auditors according to a report from March 2018.
Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior confirmed the hack, with ministry officials saying that the intrusion was initially detected in December 2017.
German officials also said at the time that an investigation was ongoing trying to determine what systems the hackers infiltrated.
Additionally, based on the evidence already gathered up to that point, the APT28 group had access to the German government network for almost an entire year.
In the past, some European countries have been targeted for similar attacks. Despite all the intensive security measures, there is no 100% protection against cyber attacks. – BMEIA and BMI joint statement
The statement was quickly condemned by contacts in the BMI and the Abwehr which seen a shift from a security cautious narrative of the previous government of the conservative-liberal to a more leftist green political outlook. “We are all peace loving, tree-hugging, etc. …does not recognize the threats these cyber attacks represent to the way of ‘their’ way of life”, an contact said.
Russian hackers targeting government bodies
APT28 is a Russian cyber-espionage unit also tracked as STRONTIUM, Sofacy, and Fancy Bear, an APT group active since at least January 2007 and previously connected to cyber-espionage campaigns targeting governments and security organizations from all over the world.
The group was behind campaigns such as the Democratic National Committee hack ahead of the 2016 US Presidential Election and attacks on Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the USA and Romania.
A six-month-long cyberattack against the German Parliament that started in 2014 was also attributed to APT28 by Bundestag’s director, as were spear phishing attacks targeting NATO and the White House in August 2015 and members of the Bundestag in August 2016, and attempts to hack into the Dutch Ministry of General Affairs in February 2017.
Microsoft said in July 2019 that it alerted around 10,000 of its customers during the last year of either being targeted or compromised by nation-state sponsored hacking groups.
The numbers presented by Redmond reveal the dependence of nation-states on cyber attacks as the means for collection and extracting intelligence, influencing geopolitics, and achieving various other objectives.
The lack of urgency and the sense of comprehension what are the depths of national security are still deeply embedded in the Austrian government psyche. Any attempts to improve security, so a contact in the Foreign Ministry, is met with a high level of suspicion and resistance. ‘Old traditions die hard in the halls of the former monarchy which houses the offices of the Foreign Ministry today,”, an officials familiar with the matter.
“The ministry’s are broken down along party lines, and intelligence awareness or comprehension of the costs to the taxpayer are just not understand by the populist powers to be.”, she added.