Cyberattack hits Montenegro government, defence minister suspects Russia

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Rasko Konjevic

The computer systems of several state bodies including the finance ministry were “infected”, he said 26 August, and the NATO-member Balkan nation has asked its allies to help limit the damage.

Abazovic did not comment on the origins of Friday’s attack, but his defence minister pointed to Russia.

Moscow added Montenegro to its list of “enemy countries” in March, after the country of 620,000 people backed European Union sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Defence Minister Rasko Konjevic described “very sophisticated attacks that could not be carried out by individuals”.

“Who could have some kind of political interest in inflicting such damage on Montenegro?” I think there is enough (evidence) to suspect that Russia is behind the attack,” Konjevic told state television.

Media outlets, citing an informal National Security Agency press briefing, said on Saturday that the attack was directed by “several Russian services”.

They reported that “all essential infrastructure” was at risk, including electricity and water supply systems, while power plants have switched to manual operation.

It was the second wave of cyberattacks on Montenegro’s institutions — a first struck in the wake of a no-confidence vote that toppled Montenegro’s government on 19 August.

The prime minister convened the National Security Council late Friday to decide on measures to be taken.

“We could not have it confirmed in the council by people competent in this field whether an individual, a group or a state was behind (the attack), but we could not exclude that either,” Abazovic told a press conference.

“Montenegro will send a request to international partners for expert assistance to possibly salvage data from this attack and prevent future attacks,” the prime minister said.

Public Administration Minister Marash Dukaj tweeted on Saturday: “Thanks to quick action, there was no lasting damage to the IT infrastructure.”

He had earlier said “the accounts of citizens and companies, as well as their data, are not under threat.”

The US embassy has issued a warning to its citizens in Montenegro, saying the “persistent” cyberattacks could cause “disruptions to the public utility, transportation (including border crossings and airport), and telecommunication sectors”.

Montenegro is in a political crisis after the parliament passed a no-confidence motion on the cabinet of Abazovic on 20 August, to protest the signing of a long-disputed deal regulating ties with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

Abazovic signed the church deal this month despite criticism from rights groups and pro-Western political parties which said it gave the church too much power compared to other religious communities.

President Milo Djukanovic has to nominate a new prime minister-designate to form a new government of the NATO member nation that aspires to join the European Union. There is also the chance of a snap election.

Politics in the Adriatic country of just 625,000 people has long been marked by divisions between those who identify as Montenegrins and pro-Russia Serbs who opposed Montenegro’s independence from a former state union with Serbia.