The Guardian newspaper reports that Italy’s foreign ministry was attacked last year by malware, which compromised email communications and went undetected for months, according to a source close to the department.
The suspect is, once again, Russia.
An Italian government official confirmed the attack, but refused to say how it was detected. They insisted, however, that it did not infiltrate an encrypted system used for classified communications. “There were no attacks on the encrypted level,” the official said. “So the information – delicate, sensitive information – that is usually shared in this net, which is restricted by code, has never been attacked or part of this attack.”
The Italian prime minister Paolo Gentilioni, who was serving as foreign minister at the time, was not affected by the hack, according to the official, who claimed Gentilioni “avoided using email” while he was foreign minister.
The targets were, rather, the foreign ministry’s ‘field offices’, including embassies and staff members who correspond with foreign officials.
After the attack was discovered, the foreign ministry is reported to have modified its online architecture and to have introduced new measures to enhance internal security.
This is not the first time Russia has been accused of cyber crime against governments. It has been continually accused of interfering in last year’s US election: cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and officials in Hillary Clinton’s staff during the 2016 campaign were blamed on Russian state-sponsored attackers who were suspected of sparking Donald Trump’s improbable rise to the White House.
Last month, the Czech Republic also announced a breach affecting its foreign ministry and, according to a government source, Russia was the suspected party.
Russia is also suspected to have targeted other Nato members, including the US, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, as part of a cyber campaign “that seeks to weaken the governments of those countries and disrupt critical infrastructure”.
Russian government officials have continued to deny these reports. The Kremlin described the alleged breach during the US election as “fabricated”, while Maria Zakhaova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, said of these latest allegations: “There are no facts that prove this statement”.