German election authority confirms likely cyber attack

BERLIN (AFP) – Suspected hackers last month briefly disrupted the website of the authority running Germany’s Sept 26 general election, a spokesman for the body told AFP on Wednesday (Sept 15).

The development, first reported by Business Insider, comes as German federal prosecutors probe alleged cyber attacks against lawmakers during the campaign to choose a new parliament and a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“At the end of August, the website of the Federal Returning Officer only had limited accessibility for a few minutes due to a malfunction,” the spokesman said when asked about the hacking report.

“The problem was analysed and the technical concepts were further developed accordingly. The information for the public through the website of the Federal Returning Officer was and is ensured.”

Business Insider reported that the website, which publishes the official results of the vote, was bombarded with data requests in a so-called distributed denial of service attack, leading the servers to break down.

Citing government sources, it said that IT systems necessary for the election itself to go off smoothly were not affected, possibly due to extra protections in place.

The federal prosecutor’s office said last week it had opened “an investigation on suspicion of espionage” over accusations made by the German government about “phishing” attacks against MPs by Russian intelligence.

Berlin has pointed the finger at hackers from Russia’s “Ghostwriter” group which reportedly specialises in spreading disinformation.

German intelligence believes they have been trying to gain access to the private email accounts of federal and regional MPs and says Russia’s military intelligence service GRU is behind the attacks.

The European Union and United States have repeatedly accused Moscow of attempting to meddle in democratic elections, something the Kremlin has disputed.