A serious cyberattack is currently keeping Austria’s Foreign Ministry in Vienna occupied. Internal computer systems are affected. The problem was recognized very quickly and the Ministry immediately took countermeasures. However, the situation is currently described as serious. A state actor may be behind the attack. So far, cybersecurity experts could not estimate how long the state of emergency would last.
State Actor Behind the Attack
The attack, which began on Saturday, is still continuing and, according to experts, could last several days. “Due to the gravity and nature of the attack, it cannot be excluded that it is a targeted attack by a state actor”, the Ministry said in a joint statement with the Interior Ministry.
For tactical reasons, the Austrian Ministry did not disclose further details of the attack and the problems it has caused. Coincidentally, the breach occurred on the same day Austria’s Green party backed forming a coalition with the conservatives, removing the last obstacle to an unprecedented alliance.
In the past, other European countries have been the target of similar attacks.
Protection Mechanisms on All Levels
Following Austria’s implementation of the NIS Directive (Security of Network and Information Systems), a coordination committee has been set up to deal with the attack, with all relevant federal agencies actively involved. The inter-agency task force is reviewing the situation.
“Despite all intensive security measures, there is never a 100% protection against cyberattacks. The state’s protection mechanisms provided for this are activated on all levels.”
Services such as travel and visa information are currently still fully available on the ministry’s website. However, there are no entries for January in the press section.
Attack on Democracy
Only in September, Austria’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) discovered and closed down a hacking operation on the computer network of its Vienna headquarters. The ÖVP called the hack “an attack on the democratic system”.
According to the party, the hackers gained access to their systems on July 27 and “exfiltrated” 1.3 terabyte of data by the end of August. Austrians went to the election polls on September 29th.
In previous years, various governmental websites in Austria had fallen victim to DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service). Using this technique, websites or programs are flooded with many incoming requests, coming from several IP addresses at once. As a result, services overload and finally fail.