Russian-based hackers targeted Irish websites in run up to local and European elections

Several sites were targeted including voter registration portal, House of the Oireachtas and Transport for Ireland

Russia-based hackers with suspected links to the country’s intelligence service targeted a number of Irish websites in the run up to the local and European elections last week.

Sites were targeted with “low impact” Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said. These attacks did not significantly impact the functioning of the websites.

Ireland was one of a number of EU countries targeted last week. Sources said the attacks originated in Russia and were likely an attempt to signal support for Moscow rather than to cause serious harm.

Several of the targets were State enterprises, including the voter registration portal voter.ie. The websites of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Transport for Ireland and Irish Rail were also impacted.

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DDOS attacks involve attempting to overwhelm a website by making hundreds or thousands of access requests over a short space of time. They rarely cause lasting damage.

“This activity is part of a pattern of events across the EU and is in line with the experiences of other EU Member States,” the NCSC said. “The NCSC has been working with the victims involved to provide technical advice and guidance and to co-ordinate the response process. The impact of these incidents has been minimal, not least because of the preparedness of the victims.”

Such attacks are “typically low-cost and low-impact, aimed at attracting attention rather than causing significant harm”, it added.

The attacks are believed to be the work of a pro-Kremlin hacker group calling itself HackNeT. The group also targeted the European Court of Auditors and the websites of various Dutch political parties. HackNeT has been accused of cybersecurity experts of working with Russian intelligence agencies.

“The Netherlands is the first country to vote for a new European Parliament so they’ll be the first to suffer from DDoS attacks,” the group wrote in its Telegram channel last week.

Other affected countries include Sweden and Spain.

EU officials warned previously that cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns were likely to increase in the run-up to the European elections.

In some countries, Russian linked campaigns have been detected encouraging voters to spoil their ballot or boycott the elections entirely.

In Ireland, the NCSC has been working with the Garda and the Electoral Commission to protect election infrastructure.

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