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Czech foreign minister says his email was hacked, hints Russia could be behind it

By ADAM TAYLOR | The Washington Post | Published: January 31, 2017

Months before the country's national election, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek has told reporters that his ministry's email system was hacked by what appears to be a foreign state -- and that the attack was similar to those carried out against the Democrats ahead of last year's U.S. vote.

"When I discussed this with the best experts that we have here, they told me that the character of the attack was such that the attack was very sophisticated, that it must have been, according to them, conducted by some foreign state, from the outside," Zaoralek told a news conference on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The Czech foreign minister added that cybersecurity experts had told him that the way the attack was carried out "very much resembles the character of attacks against the system of the Democratic Party in the United States."

While Zaoralek didn't specify the country he thought might be behind the attack, U.S. intelligence officials have accused Russia of involvement in the theft of Democratic National Committee emails last year. Intelligence officials say that these attacks were designed to hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who eventually lost to Republican Donald Trump in the November election.

Moscow has denied any responsibility for those attacks, but its arguments have found few supporters in the West. Meanwhile, Russia also been accused of attempting to covertly influence a number of key European elections in the near future - including upcoming votes in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

The Czech Republic is due to hold its parliamentary election this October. Intelligence officials have already expressed concern that pro-Russian groups have infiltrated the Czech media system with the aim of influencing the vote -- early this year, the Czech Interior Ministry formed a unit that was tasked with identifying misinformation and "fake news" with an aim to countering its reach.

For the Czech Republic, the influence of Moscow is a divisive subject. The country, then joined with its neighbor as Czechoslovakia, became a Soviet-influenced communist state after World War II. In 1968, the Soviet Army and other Warsaw Pact countries invaded the country to end a period of liberalization; Soviet soldiers remained in the country until 1991. After the collapse of communism, the newly-independent Czech Republic later joined NATO and the European Union.

However, some euroskeptic politicians in the country have pushed for a closer relationship with Moscow -- including President Milos Zeman, the country's largely ceremonial head of state, who has spoken out against Western sanctions on Russia.

According to the Czech Foreign Ministry, a number of email addresses used by the ministry had been compromised, including one used by Zaoralek himself. The attack had been known about since the beginning of January but the ministry's international communication system wasn't targeted, Zaoralek said, so no classified information had been leaked.

Zaoralek said the Czech government would now be reviewing its cybersecurity measures, with the National Center for Cyber Security working with the Foreign Ministry and intelligence agencies to prevent future attacks of this kind.

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