Norwegian military personnel were the targets of what’s being described as a “massive” cyber attack this spring, one day after Norway started bombing Libya with other UN- and NATO-backed forces. Newspaper VG reported Thursday that they fended off the attack, which was considered the most serious ever experienced.
It came in the form of an e-mail written in what was said to be “good Norwegian” that looked like it had been sent by another Norwegian government agency. It contained an attachment, however, that when opened unleashed a computer virus that could have opened up military PCs to the attackers.
Several hundred defense ministry employees received the same e-mail, reported VG. One employee opened the attachment, allowing the unknown attackers to gain access to that employee’s PC, but the virus was then quickly discovered and warnings issued.
The attackers didn’t succeed with further infiltration, claimed Major General Roar Sundseth, adding that they also failed to obtain classified information before the attack was discovered.
“The defense systems are attacked daily, but it’s not often we see such a comprehensive attempt at infiltration as this was,” Sundseth told VG Nett. “The trend is increasing, though, and the attackers are more goal-oriented.”
Defense officials don’t know who or what was behind the attack, nor whether it was directly related to the Libyan military intervention in which Norway has been taking part.
“It came just a short time after the decision was made to send Norwegian forces to the operation in Libya,” confirmed Major Ivar Kjærem of the military’s center for protection of critical information (Forsvarets senter for besyttelse of kritisk informasjon, FSKI). “We haven’t seen such an attack so close to conflicts Norway has been involved in earlier, but we can’t say there’s a connection.”
Norway’s special police intelligence unit PST is investigating the attack. Norway’s National Security Authority (Nasjonal sikkerhetsmyndighet, NSM) has registered steadily increasing numbers of attacks and spying attempts on various Norwegian government agencies and state institutions.
Roger Ingebrigtsen, state secretary in the defense ministry from the Labour Party, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he thinks the country is well-prepared to handle major cyber attacks but that all state employees need to be cautious about opening e-mail attachments. He couldn’t say whether he thought a foreign government was behind the latest attack.