British newspaper The Observer has seen a confidential MITA external risk assessment claiming that the Fancy Bears – a hacking collective that is often associated with the Kremlin – would have carried out attacks on government servers
British newspaper The Observer has seen a confidential external risk assessment from the Maltese government’s information technology agency (MITA), claiming that the Fancy Bears – a hacking collective that is often associated with the Kremlin – would have carried out attacks on government servers.
A source who spoke to the newspaper claimed the attacks had increased ahead of June’s general election. “In the last two quarters of last year and the first part of this year, attacks on our servers have increased,” the source said.
“It’s mainly phishing type of attacks, DDoS (distributed denial of service – during which huge amounts of data are used to bombard IT systems) and some malware on computer systems. There has been an increase of about 40% on the normal level of attacks we would expect. We do not believe they have penetrated our systems but some websites are drastically slower. There has been a tremendous amount of phishing emails – around five million a month.”
The news report comes days after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed that he had received information from a foreign intelligence agency that Malta would become a target for a Russian disinformation campaign. “We had been warned that we could be targeted and, after the allegations were made, two allied governments approached us to say that they had serious suspicion that this could be part of a manoeuvre.”
The Nationalist Party has described the claims as ridiculous.
The Fancy Bears hacking team have been associated with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU by the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, while security firms SecureWorks, ThreatConnect, and Fireeye’s Mandiant have also said the group is sponsored by the Russian government.
Originally, a report in intelligence specialist IntelligenceOnline.com claimed sources from MI6 and the CIA had warned that Russia was meddling in the Maltese general elections.
But the suggestion that a Russian whistleblower who alleged that the PM’s wife is the beneficial owner of an offshore company, had a suspicious link to external influences, was never properly established in the IntelligenceOnline.com report.
The Egrant allegation is now the subject of a magisterial inquiry, while two other inquiries are probing findings in FIAU reports that Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, accepted bribes from the sale of Maltese passports to wealthy Russians, and could have laundered money paid to Adrian Hillman, the former Allied Newspapers director.
The Observer’s source opined that Russia was “angry over the contract for a gas terminal and power station on the island, which went to Socar, an Azerbaijani oil company.”
The newspaper also mentioned an unreported event, saying that on 15 April last year, Malta impounded a shipment of 136 tonnes of Chinese-produced aluminium bullets destined for Syria and the Assad regime, after a tip-off from a European intelligence agency. “It is claimed that Malta’s actions dismayed Russia, which made strenuous representations to have the cargo released.”
When Malta refused Russian warships permission to refuel while on their way to Syria back in October 2016, the Russian foreign ministry accused it of falling “victim to the west’s information war”.
“The Russian prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, is understood to have made his country’s displeasure known during a meeting with Muscat and other government officials and other government representatives in Moscow,” The Observer wrote.
The Russian embassy in Malta categorically rejected the allegations against it as unfounded and untrue. “Russia has never interfered into Malta’s domestic affairs and has no intention to do so in the future,” the embassy said.