Georgia enlists international help to investigate cyber attack

TV stations knocked off air and thousands of websites hacked in wave of disruption

Georgia’s security services are working with international counterparts to investigate a major cyber attack that they suspect could have been launched from abroad.

At least two television stations were knocked off air and thousands of websites were hacked, including the portals of government agencies and the presidential administration, in a wave of disruption that began on Monday.

“At this time, access to most websites has been restored. The functionality of other websites will be fully restored in the near future,” Georgia’s interior ministry said on Tuesday.

“The cyber attack may have been carried out from both inside and outside the country. The ministry . . . is actively co-operating with the law-enforcement agencies of partner countries within the framework of this investigation.”

The last major cyber attack on the pro-western Caucasus state took place shortly before its brief 2008 war with Russia, when hackers targeted banks and the websites of Georgia's then president Mikheil Saakashvili and his government.

Russia denied any state involvement in the attacks, but it has been accused of using hackers against several countries with which it has strained ties, from neighbours including Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine to the United States.

Many of the pages attacked this week were defaced with an image of Mr Saakashvili and the message “I’ll be back”. He now lives in Ukraine and faces several criminal charges in his homeland, where his former allies are in opposition.

“This incident should be fully investigated. This is essential to prevent further cyber attacks,” said Rezo Natroshvili, the director of Pro-Service, which provides webhosting for many of the affected sites.

Tension

“A very big cyber attack took place, the largest in the country’s history. Not only our servers were affected but the servers of television channels and various other organisations,” he told Voice of America’s Russian service.

Moscow banned direct flights to and from Georgia and tightened controls on wine imports from the country this summer, after violent protests erupted outside parliament in Tbilisi when a Russian deputy addressed politicians from the speaker’s chair.

There have also been tense episodes in recent months at the de-facto border between government-held territory and South Ossetia, a region run by Russian-backed separatists and recognised by Moscow as an independent state since 2008.

Across the Black Sea in Bulgaria, officials said a Russian diplomat had left the country after Sofia asked Moscow to recall him over allegations of spying.

Prosecutors said the unnamed first secretary at the Russian embassy had sought to obtain state secrets from Bulgarians, including an official with access to classified national, EU and Nato information.

Last month, Bulgaria charged a former deputy with spying for Moscow and banned two Russians – a former intelligence officer and a wealthy businessman – from entering the country.