Montenegro is to join the NATO cyber defence centre based in Estonia by 2019, to tighten up its cyber protection abilities after coming under a series of attacks in 2016 and 2017.
The government has approved the accession of the Ministry of Defence and the signing the two memoranda on the establishment of operations and functional relationships with NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, based in Tallinn.
The accession documents will be signed this summer, and Montenegro is expected to join the cyber defence group in 2019. Montenegro will have a status of a “sponsoring nation”.
Involvement in the cyber defence centre will enable Montenegro to build up and develop its national capabilities in cyber security, amid reports that Russian hackers attacked several government agencies and media online publications.
In the accession documents, obtained by BIRN, the government said that now the country had joined NATO, in June 2017, “attacks on the cyber-space of Montenegro could more complex and have greater consequences.
“In recent years, especially just before it became a member of NATO, Montenegro was the target of a number of cyber-attacks, which is why it had to develop its own capacities in cyber defence,” the government said.
The 18-member centre’s mission is to improve the capacity, cooperation and information sharing among NATO member nations and partners in cyber-defence, through education, research and development, analyses and consultations.
The NATO centre also hosts a yearly exercise, Locked Shields, which allows member nations to practice fending off cyber-threats in real-time.
Recently, Romania also said it would join the centre in Tallinn by 2019. Bulgaria, Norway, Portugal, Australia and Switzerland are in the process of joining.
Over the past three years, the number of cyber-attacks on the Montenegrin authorities has risen sharply, mostly targeting state agencies and the media.
Most of the attacks happened in the wake of an alleged Russian-backed coup plot on election day in October 2016. Montenegro has accused Russia of being behind the plot in order to stop it from joining NATO. Moscow has rejected such accusations.
An investigation by BIRN in March revealed that the notorious Russian cyber-espionage group, Fancy Bear, is believed to be behind numerous attacks against Montenegrin institutions that took place in 2017.
Three international IT security companies claimed that US intelligence believed Fancy Bear was linked to the Russian military intelligence unit, GRU.
EU officials also believe that Montenegro suffered serious cyber-attacks carried out by Russian hackers – which is why the EU wants Montenegro to tighten its cyber-security defence and set up a dedicated police task force to combat cyber-crime.