Georgia, backed by US and Britain, blames Russia for 'paralysing' cyber attack

State, private and media websites were taken out by a large-scale cyber attack on Oct 28, 2018, including those belonging to the Georgian president's office and two private television stations. PHOTO: REUTERS

GEORGIA (REUTERS) - Britain and the United States joined Georgia on Thursday (Feb 20) in blaming Russia for a large-scale cyber attack last year that knocked thousands of Georgian websites offline and disrupted national television broadcasts.

State, private and media websites were taken out by the attack on Oct 28, including those belonging to the Georgian President's office and two private television stations.

Georgia's foreign ministry said the cyber attack, which defaced websites to display an image of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, was planned and carried out by the Russian military.

The attack "was intended to harm Georgian citizens and government structures by disrupting and paralysing the functionality of various organisations, thereby causing anxiety among the general public", said foreign ministry spokesman Vladimer Konstantinidi.

In supporting statements, Britain and the United States attributed the attack specifically to a unit of Russia's military intelligence service, commonly known as the GRU.

Western countries have accused the GRU of orchestrating a spree of destructive in cyber attacks in recent years, including hacks that took down parts of the Ukrainian energy grid and crippled businesses worldwide in 2017.

Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations. The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday's announcement.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the attack "directly affected the Georgian population, disrupted operations of several thousand Georgian government and privately-run websites and interrupted the broadcast of at least two major television stations".

Britain's foreign minister, Mr Dominic Raab, said: "The GRU's reckless and brazen campaign of cyberattacks against Georgia, a sovereign and independent nation, is totally unacceptable."

The attack is the latest alleged attempt by Russia to undermine and destabilise the former Soviet Republic of Georgia since a short-lived war between the two countries in 2008 over a breakaway Georgian region.

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