Albania breaks diplomatic ties with Iran over major cyberattack

·2-min read
Albania breaks diplomatic ties with Iran over major cyberattack

Albania has cut diplomatic ties with Iran after accusing it of being behind a major cyberattack on government websites.

Staff at the Iranian embassy in Tirana, including diplomatic and security personnel, have been ordered to leave the country within 24 hours.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama confirmed on Wednesday that official "immediate notice" had been sent to the embassy.

It comes two months after a cyberattack temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites in July.

An investigation found that the incident was an act of "state aggression" and was not carried out by individuals or independent groups. The Iranian government has denied any involvement.

It is the first known case of a country cutting diplomatic relations over a cyberattack.

Albanian special police forces and officers were seen surrounding the compound as embassy staff departed on Thursday.

“The thorough investigation produced undeniable evidence that the cyberattack against our country was orchestrated and sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran which had involved four groups in the attack,” Rama said in a video statement.

"The heavy cyber attack on the Albanian government's digital infrastructure aimed at destroying it," he added.

The "wide and complex" attack began as a ransomware attack as hackers tried to hit critical systems and render them functionless.

A group calling itself “HomeLand Justice” initially claimed credit for the attack. Albanian government websites were restored soon after the incident.

Tirana said it was working alongside Microsoft and the FBI to investigate the cyberattack.

On Wednesday, the US National Security Council pledged its support for NATO ally and called for Iran to be "held accountable for this unprecedented cyber incident".

"We will take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a US ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Since 2013, Albania has been hosting members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), an exiled movement that fiercely opposes the Iranian regime.

The two countries also clashed in 2018, when Albania expelled four Iranian diplomats for allegedly "threatening national security".