Pompeo, foreign partners condemn Russian cyberattack on country of Georgia

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with top foreign officials from almost a dozen other nations, on Thursday strongly condemned a major Russian cyberattack on the country of Georgia that significantly disrupted operations across government and media organizations.

The October attack by Russian intelligence officers disrupted and damaged servers within the Georgian president’s office, the country’s judicial system and multiple government municipalities, and interrupted the broadcasts of at least two major television stations.

Pompeo described the attack in a statement on Thursday as an effort by Russia to “sow division, create insecurity, and undermine democratic institutions,” and noted that it “contradicts” Russia’s claims that it is a responsible state actor in cyberspace.

“The United States calls on Russia to cease this behavior in Georgia and elsewhere.  The stability of cyberspace depends on the responsible behavior of nations,” Pompeo said. “We, together with the international community, will continue our efforts to uphold an international framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.”

Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a separate statement: “This attack is just one more example of how Russian malign behavior erodes transparency and predictability, undermines the rules-based international order, and violates the sovereignty of its neighbors.”

The United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre said Thursday that it publicly assessed with the “highest level of probability” that Russia carried out these attacks, and that the attacks were “part of Russia’s long-running campaign of hostile and destabilizing behavior towards Georgia.”

Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the Russian attack represented a “breach of Georgia’s sovereignty,” emphasizing that the attack “disrupted society” along with endangering the Georgian population and national security.

“Georgia will continue to work closely with its partners to strengthen cyber security at the national level to minimize future risks and potential threats,” the ministry said. “We call on the international community to give due consideration to this fact.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the attacks on Georgia were “totally unacceptable,” and vowed the British government would continue exposing Russian aggression in cyberspace. 

“The Russian Government has a clear choice: continue this aggressive pattern of behavior against other countries, or become a responsible partner which respects international law,” Raab said. 

Senior foreign officials from almost a dozen other countries — including Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Estonia — also condemned the Russian cyberattacks on Georgia.

The Australian government, which is a partner in the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing alliance that also includes the U.S. and the U.K., strongly advocated that Russia face consequences for the attacks.

“We will not stand by when cyberspace is used to destabilize democracies, undermine institutions or disrupt critical infrastructure,” the Australian government said in a statement.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko pushed back against the accusations, telling Russian state-sponsored news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday that “Russia did not intend and is not going to interfere in any way in the internal affairs of Georgia in one form or another.”

Russia has long been considered one of the most dangerous foreign threats in cyberspace, and has launched attacks against Georgia in the past, mostly notably in 2008 while the two countries were at war and the Georgian president’s website was targeted by Russian actors and was temporarily taken offline. 

Moscow has also launched consistent cyberattacks on Ukraine and, according to U.S. intelligence agencies and the report compiled by former special counsel Robert Mueller, attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Updated at 3:21 p.m.

Tags Cyberattack cybersecurity Georgia Mike Pompeo Robert Mueller Russia

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