The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international election and war monitor, said Wednesday it had become the latest global institution to suffer a “major” cyber attack.
The Vienna-based OSCE has its origins in the Cold War but after 1991 it expanded and now has 57 member states including the United States, Russia and Ukraine.
It currently has 700 monitors focused on the conflict in eastern Ukraine and is also active in observing elections and tracking media freedom.
OSCE spokeswoman Mersiha Causevic Podzic told AFP in an email that it “became aware of a major information security incident” in early November.
The attack “compromised the confidentiality” of the organisation’s IT network and put “its integrity at risk”, although it was still able to operate, she said.
According to French daily Le Monde, which first reported the incident, a Western intelligence agency believes that Russian hackers group APT28 was behind the attack.
This group, also known as Pawn Storm, Sofacy and Fancy Bears, is believed to be behind other high-profile cyber attacks and to be linked to Russia’s security services.
The OSCE said “the way in which the attacker accessed the OSCE was identified, as have some of the external communication destinations”.
France’s ambassador to the OSCE played down the dangers from the attack, saying officials in Vienna — long seen as a hotbed of espionage — are trained to be aware to the risks.
“Diplomats at the OSCE are warned that attempted spying, in whatever form, are part and parcel of this organisation,” Veronique Roger-Lacan told AFP.
But cyber attacks by criminals and governments are on the rise, with states and firms spending billions of dollars to defend and arm themselves.
The issue has become contentious between the United States and Russia, with the latter alleged to have hacked party computers and leaked documents during the US election campaign.
The White House has said Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved and President Barack Obama has vowed Washington will retaliate “at a time and place of our own choosing”.