Malta accuses Russia of cyber-attacks in run-up to election

The Maltese government has claimed that it has come under cyber-attack from a Russian-backed campaign to undermine it, amid worsening relations with the Kremlin.

Malta assumed the presidency of Europe’s Council of Ministers in January, an important position under which it chairs high-level meetings in Brussels and sets Europe’s political agenda. Since then, the Maltese government’s IT systems have seen a rise in attacks, according to a source working within its IT agency, a government body. He claimed the attacks, which have increased ahead of next month’s general election, are designed to damage the government.

Reportedly, there has been an increase of about 40% on the normal level of attacks; a confidential external risk assessment, seen by the Observer, identifies the Fancy Bears – a hacking collective that is often associated with the Kremlin – as a prime suspect.

The attacks come after recent claims from the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, that a foreign intelligence agency had suggested Malta would become a target for a Russian disinformation campaign. Muscat, the former academic and MEP, who has presided over a period of sustained economic growth and helped the island produce its first budget surplus in almost four decades, called an election after his government was hit by a series of corruption allegations that emerged following the release of the Panama Papers last year.