Albania sever ties with Iran over cyberattack, US promises new measures


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TIRANA, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Albania on Wednesday severed diplomatic ties with Iran and expelled its diplomats after a cyberattack in July it blamed on the Islamic Republic, a move backed by Washington as it s pledged to take action in response to the attack on his country. NATO ally.

Albania ordered Iranian diplomats and embassy staff to leave within 24 hours.

“The government has decided with immediate effect to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a video statement.

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“This extreme response (…) is entirely proportionate to the severity and risk of the cyberattack which threatened to cripple public services, wipe out digital systems and hack into state archives, steal electronic communications from the government intranet and sow chaos and insecurity in the country,” Rama said. said.

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian embassy in Tirana. There were no police units around the premises of the Iranian Embassy in Tirana.

The United States said it concluded, after weeks of investigation, that Iran was behind the “reckless and irresponsible” July 15 cyberattack.

“The United States will take additional steps to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a United States ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace,” the White House National Security Council said. in a press release.

STRAINED RELATIONS SINCE 2014

Albania and Iran have had strained relations since 2014, when Albania accepted some 3,000 members of the exiled opposition group People’s Mojahedin of Iran, also known by its Farsi name Mujahideen-e- Khalq, who settled in a camp near Durres, the country’s capital. main port.

US cybersecurity firm Mandiant, which noted the hacking activity in a blog post earlier this month, said the group – which had ties to Iran – deployed a complex attack that used a data erasure malware against Iranian dissidents.

“This may be the strongest public response to a cyberattack we have ever seen,” John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence at Mandiant, said in an emailed statement. “While we have seen a host of other diplomatic consequences in the past, they have not been as severe or broad as this action.”

The move comes days after NATO member state Montenegro blamed a criminal group called Cuba Ransomware for a digital attack on its government infrastructure that local officials said was unprecedented.

“While the incidents are likely unrelated, regular disruptions to government infrastructure are an alarming trend,” Hultquist said.

Albania previously said it foiled several attacks planned by Iranian operatives against the Iranian opposition group.

“The thorough investigation has provided us with compelling evidence that the cyberattack against our country was orchestrated and sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran through the involvement of four groups that carried out the aggression,” Rama said.

The US government has been on the ground for weeks with private sector partners to investigate and help Albania recover from the attack that destroyed government data and disrupted public services, the White House said.

“We have concluded that the Iranian government carried out this reckless and reckless cyberattack and is responsible for the subsequent hacking and leaking operations,” he said.

The United States called the attack unprecedented because it said it violated the peacetime standard of not damaging critical infrastructure the public relied on.

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Reporting by Florion Goga and Fatos Bytyci, Doina Chiacu in Washington, James Pearson in London; Editing by Edmund Blair, Alex Richardson, William Maclean

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