Russia suspected over hacking attack on Italian foreign ministry

Russia is suspected by Italian officials of being behind a sustained hacking attack against the Italian foreign ministry last year that compromised email communications and lasted for many months before it was detected, according to people familiar with the matter.

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Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister who was serving as foreign minister at the time, was not affected by the hack, according to the official, who said Gentiloni avoided using email while he was foreign minister.

The foreign ministry’s “field offices”, including embassies and staff members who report back to Rome about meetings with foreign officials, were affected by the malware attack. But the government official said sensitive information had not been compromised because it would also have been encrypted.

The official did not confirm that Moscow was behind the attack. But two other people with knowledge of the attack said the Russian state was believed to have been behind it. The hacking is now the subject of an inquiry by the chief prosecutor in Rome.

“There were no attacks on the encrypted level. So the information delicate, sensitive information that is usually shared in this net, which is restricted by code, has never been attacked or part of this attack,” the government official said.

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The person said that after the attack was discovered, the foreign ministry modified its online “architecture” and introduced new instruments to enhance internal security. The official declined to comment on how the intrusion was detected.