PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — A rapid deployment team of FBI cyber experts is heading to Montenegro to investigate a massive and coordinated attack on the tiny Balkan nation's government and its services, the country's Ministry of Internal Affairs announced Wednesday.
“This is another confirmation of the excellent cooperation between the United States of America and Montenegro and a proof that we can count on their support in any situation,” the ministry said of the deployment of the Cyber Action Team.
Last weekend, Montenegro’s Agency for National Security said the country was “under a hybrid war at the moment,” blaming the attack squarely on Russia. Meanwhile, a Cuban hacker group has claimed responsibility while experts said it could also be the work of both individuals and organized criminal groups.
Montenegrin officials said Russia has a strong motive for such an attack because the Balkan state, once considered a strong Russian ally, joined NATO in 2017 despite strong opposition from the Kremlin. It has also joined Western sanctions against Moscow because of its invasion of Ukraine.
Other Eastern European states deemed enemies of Russia have recently also sustained cyberattacks, mostly nuisance-level denial of service campaigns, in recent weeks. Targets have included networks in Moldova, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Albania.
But the attack against Montenegro’s infrastructure seemed more sustained and extensive with targets including water supply systems, transportation services and online government services, among many others.
On Monday, government officials said that an attack by hackers on the information system of Montenegrin institutions was still ongoing, but that the system will not suffer permanent damage.
“A huge amount of money was invested in the attack on our system”, said Minister of Public Administration Maras Dukaj He added that his ministry cannot determine the source of the attack, but that there is “strong indication that it is coming from Russia.”
The Director of the Directorate for Information Security, Dusan Polovic, said that “150 cells” in a dozen state institutions were infected, and that the data of the Ministry of Public Administration was not permanently damaged.
“The infected stations have been removed from the network and hard drives have been removed from them for further forensics,” he said, adding that “the priority is to put the tax system into operation, but this will be done only when it is completely secure.”
AP writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.
Predrag Milic, The Associated Press