Azerbaijani Hackers Breached Karabakh Telecom Servers During War: Armenian Info System Safeguards Inadequate
Azerbaijani hackers targeted the Artsakh telecommunication operator Karabakh Telecom during last year’s war and were able to infiltrate the company’s servers with relative ease.
We know this to be the case because the Azerbaijani hackers published the telephone numbers of Karabakh Telecom customers on November 9, 2020, the day of the ceasefire.
During the early days of the war, the hackers managed to disrupt the operating systems of Karabakh Telecom and to delete all the company’s backup data.
It’s no wonder that Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan transferred management of the company to the government on October 2, 2020.
Hetq contacted the governments of Armenia and Artsakh, requesting information about the damage done communication operators by Azerbaijani hackers and to see if any telephone calls of Armenian top government and military officials had wiretapped.
The Artsakh Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) replied that there were no reports from Karabakh state bodies about illegal activity resulting in internet and telephone disruptions during the war or of cases of Karabakh Telecom being hacked and controlled by the Azerbaijanis.
The PGO added that it is investigating any cases of wiretapping by Azerbaijani hackers.
The Prosecutor General's Office of Armenia told Hetq that various war-related criminal cases are being investigated by Armenian law enforcement agencies, but that the circumstances mentioned in our inquiry are not the subject of any criminal investigation due to the lack of such data.
The following response received from Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) was revealing.
"According to information received, the normal operation of the operating systems of Karabakh Telecom servers was disrupted due to hacker attacks and the backup copies of the mentioned servers were deleted. As a result, the company stopped providing communication services. Evidence of wiretapping information has not been received.”
Azerbaijanis were able to “link up” with Armenian network without any obstacles
Information technology specialist Arthur Papyan, referring to the deletion of Karabakh Telecom server back-up copies by Azerbaijani hackers, told Hetq that this fact is replete with negative consequences.
Papyan said it is important to have back-up copies of information to restore hacked systems.
“The attack, in fact, was so serious, that they were able to reach the back-ups, not allowing the systems to be restored. This is very bad, because if something is broken and you have restored it without a backup, and if, for example, there is a software spy in it, you will not be able to be completely sure that everything is clean,” Papyan said.
According to the IT specialist, backup copies are usually made in such a way that they are automated and isolated, so that they are as difficult to access as possible, and if the system is deleted, you can bring it back.
In this case, the NSS admits that the Azerbaijani hackers managed to obtain backup copies, which, according to Artur Papyan, reveals the strength and scope of of the attack. He emphasizes that the information provided by the NSS proves that the Azerbaijanis had the opportunity to freely link to the Armenian network and extract personal data.
Azerbaijani hackers outclass Armenian counterparts
"We have had a deplorable situation during the whole of last year. There are vital infrastructures, whose protection has been in a terrible state, both in Armenia and in Artsakh. What was possible was broken. Against that background, there were specialists from our Armenian side, hacker groups, who did a lot of work, but compared to the Azerbaijani side, what our hackers did is nothing," said Papyan.
Hetq also contacted Karabakh Telecom General Director Mkhitar Mirzoyan for comment. For security reasons, he did not want to comment on the Azerbaijani hacker and the deletion of the company’s backups of the servers. He only said that the company invited NSS specialists to study the issue.
Mirzoyan said that two months after the end of the war, Karabakh Telecom had installed ten new towers in Artsakh communities that were deprived of mobile communication, and that by January 2021, mobile communication was restored throughout the country.
He said it was more difficult to restore the fixed telephone cables, which took five months, especially in the Martuni and Martakert regions and the capital Stepanakert.
Mirzoyan said that the company has increased the 3G internet bandwidth, allowing for faster internet speeds.
Top picture: Lily Petrosyan