Cyber attacks in Europe, ME could be work of Turkey-sponsored hackers

The hackers have attacked at least 30 organizations, including government ministries, embassies and security services as well as companies and other groups, according to a Reuters review of public internet records. Victims have included Cypriot and Greek government email services and the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, the records show.

 

Sweeping cyber attacks targeting governments and other organizations in Europe and the Middle East are believed to be the work of hackers acting in the interests of the Turkish government, three senior Western security officials said.

 

The hackers have attacked at least 30 organizations, including government ministries, embassies and security services as well as companies and other groups, according to a Reuters review of public internet records. Victims have included Cypriot and Greek government email services and the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, the records show.

 

The attacks involve intercepting internet traffic to victim websites, potentially enabling hackers to obtain illicit access to the networks of government bodies and other organizations.

 

According to two British officials and one U.S. official, the activity bears the hallmarks of a state-backed cyber espionage operation conducted to advance Turkish interests.

 

The officials said that conclusion was based on three elements: the identities and locations of the victims, which included governments of countries that are geopolitically significant to Turkey; similarities to previous attacks that they say used infrastructure registered from Turkey; and information contained in confidential intelligence assessments that they declined to detail.

 

The officials said it wasn’t clear which specific individuals or organizations were responsible but that they believed the waves of attacks were linked because they all used the same servers or other infrastructure.

 

Turkey’s Interior Ministry declined to comment. A senior Turkish official did not respond directly to questions about the campaign but said Turkey was itself frequently a victim of cyber attacks.

 

The Cypriot government said in a statement that the “relevant agencies were immediately aware of the attacks and moved to contain” them. “We will not comment on specifics for reasons of national security,” it added.

 

Officials in Athens said they had no evidence the Greek government email system was compromised. The Iraqi government did not respond to requests for comment.

 

The Cypriot, Greek and Iraqi attacks identified by Reuters all occurred in late 2018 or early 2019, according to the public internet records. The broader series of attacks is ongoing, according to the officials as well as private cyber-security investigators.

 

A spokeswoman for the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency, declined to comment on who was behind the attacks. In the United States, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on who was behind the attacks and the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Hijacked
The attacks highlight a weakness in a core pillar of online infrastructure that can leave victims exposed to attacks that happen outside their own networks, making them difficult to detect and defend against, cyber-security specialists said.

 

The hackers used a technique known as DNS hijacking, according to the Western officials and private cyber-security experts. This involves tampering with the effective address book of the internet, called the Domain Name System (DNS), which enables computers to match website addresses with the correct server.

 

By reconfiguring parts of this system, hackers were able to redirect visitors to imposter websites, such as a fake email service, and capture passwords and other text entered there,.


 


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