By Edward Wrong, ABC News London
As the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia escalates, Georgia is being forced to defend not only its borders but also its Web sites.
According to widespread reports, a number of Georgian government servers were hijacked last Thursday, just before Russia’s military intervention in the region, defacing several government Web sites and forcing others offline.
The most immediate damage was the closure of the central government site and the official Web site of Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president; the takedown of the home page of the Ministry of Defense; and the defacement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs site, which was replaced with images of Georgia's president as a Nazi, reports the Washington Post.
In a statement released on a temporary Web site hosted by Google, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "A cyber-warfare campaign by Russia is seriously disrupting many Georgian Web sites, including that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."”
The barrage mirrors similar attacks on Estonian government sites last April -- which occurred after the widely publicized removal of a Soviet war memorial in the Estonian capital of Tallinn -- in which government, political, financial and media institutions were targeted.
Now as then, security experts are pointing fingers at the infamous hacker syndicate known as RBN, or the Russian Business Network.
Long believed to be closely tied to elite elements in the Kremlin and the Russian Mafia, the RBN is believed to have been directly involved in or to have facilitated crimes ranging from child pornography and corporate blackmail to spam and identity theft, with revenues of upwards of nine figures, reports the Times of London. The RBN’s unscrupulousness earned it the moniker of “the baddest of the bad” from VeriSign, one of the world’s largest internet security companies.
Internet security expert Jart Armin, who runs a blog monitoring RBN activity, has published data on his site claiming that visitors to the Georgian sites had been re-routed through servers in Russia and Turkey that Armin said “are well known to be under the control of RBN and influenced by the Russian government,” according to the British newspaper The Telegraph.
Armin also told the Telegraph that German administrators had intervened over the weekend, temporarily making the Georgian sites available through servers run by Deutsche Telekom. However, hours later the sites had once again been hijacked, this time to servers based in Moscow.
The attacks last year in Estonia triggered the creation of the NATO Cyber Defence Centre in Tallinn. According to the Baltic News Service, two specialists in information security from the Estonian Computer Emergency Response Team have already been sent this afternoon to Tblisi, Georgia.
Most recently, the web site of the president of Georgia, was moved to a U.S. hosting facility, reports the AP -- just after Polish President Lech Kaczynski, gave space on his official English-language Web site to President Saakashvili, after a request from Georgia. Kaczynski states on his site that "the Russian Federation is blocking Georgian Internet portals.