Albania is cutting diplomatic relations with Iran and has ordered Iranian diplomats and embassy staff to leave within 24 hours after an investigation into a cyber attack in July, Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Wednesday.
“The government has decided with immediate effect to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr Rama said in a statement sent to the media.
“This extreme response … is fully proportionate to the gravity and risk of the cyber attack that threatened to paralyse public services, erase digital systems and hack into state records, steal government intranet electronic communication and stir chaos and insecurity in the country,” Mr Rama said.
Albania suffered a major cyber attack in July and the government’s web page and all those of public institutions were shut down after the attack.
A statement said a “wide and complex” cyber attack started in the afternoon of July 15, after which all government infrastructure and systems were isolated.
It started as a ransomware attack in which the hackers tried to hit critical systems, aiming to get them functionless, it said.
The statement said the “method used by the hackers was identical with last year’s attacks seen in the international cyberspace”, mentioning those in Ukraine, Germany, Lithuania, Malta, Netherland and Belgium.
The digital attacks targeting Albania on July 17 came ahead of the World Summit of Free Iran, a conference scheduled to convene in the town of Manez in western Albania on July 23 and 24.
The summit was affiliated with the Iranian opposition group the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran.
The UK's new foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said the country would join Albania in exposing “Iran’s unacceptable actions.”
“Iran’s reckless actions showed a blatant disregard for the Albanian people, severely restricting their ability to access essential public services,” said Mr Cleverly.
“The UK is supporting our valuable partner and Nato ally. We join Albania and other allies in exposing Iran’s unacceptable actions.”
The US said on Wednesday it strongly condemned the attack on its Nato ally.
“We join in Prime Minister Rama’s call for Iran to be held accountable for this unprecedented cyber incident. The United States 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 spokes for the US National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, said in a statement.
She added that for weeks, the US government has been supporting Albania’s efforts to mitigate, recover from, and investigate the July 15 cyberattack that destroyed government data and disrupted government services to the public.
“We have concluded that the government of Iran conducted this reckless and irresponsible cyberattack and that it is responsible for subsequent hack and leak operations,” Ms Watson said.