Tensions between Russia and Turkey have been running high since a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber aircraft was shot down by Turkey near the Syria-Turkey border on 24 November 2015. According to Turkey, the fighter plane was shot down after having passed around 2 kilometers into its airspace, a claim that is still disputed by the Russians. Now, adding to strained relations between the two countries, a group of Turkish hacktivists have carried out a cyber attack on the Russian communications minister.
The cyber attack took place on Sunday and is considered a retaliatory retort for the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Turkey by the Kremlin for the downing of its aircraft. The team of hackers that perpetrated the attack calls itself the Börteçine Cyber Team, and on Sunday penetrated the Instagram account of Russian Minister Nikolai Nikiforov – blocking him out of the popular social media site for nine hours.
During the time that it took Instagram to restore the account to its rightful owner, the Turkish hacktivist group posted some pictures and unsubtle references to the downed fighter jet. These included a number of photos of the Turkish flag, photos of the nation’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Enver Pasha (of the Young Turk Revolution), a picture of a trail of fire with an open parachute and series of photos of the Turkish army and a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. The Russian minister is said to have been angry that it took Instagram so long to restore his account commenting that,
‘After today’s incident, I have many questions about the security of Instagram and the response time of its customer service.’
The hack is believed to be both retaliation for the recently imposed economic sanctions, but also a direct response to a number of cyber attacks that have been aimed at Turkey (believed to have originated in Russia) since the downing of the fighter jet. The strict economic sanctions include a ban on the import of Turkish produce such as fruit, vegetables and textiles. Sanctions on Turkish construction firms working in Russia, a ban on employing Turkish citizens and a ban on chartered holidays to Turkey for Russian nationals – tourism that is believed to bring in 3 million Russian visitors per year. Speaking about the sanctions on the importation of Turkish grown produce, Muhittin Baran, deputy head of Turkey’s Fruit and Vegetable Markets Association commented,
‘There was an initial shock in the sector, but we have recovered from it.’
As mentioned, this is only the latest attack in what is mounting up to be quite the cyber-war between the two disgruntled nations. Turkish servers that handle the traffic for around 400,000 websites, including government agencies were hit with a DDoS attack late in December, leading to speculation that it was carried out by the Russians. On top of that, there were some reports of Turkish financial websites and Banks being targeted with cyber attacks. In fact, however, the well-known hacktivist group Anonymous has taken the credit for the attacks on Turkish targets, claiming that it was in response to Turkey’s alleged support of ISIS.
Sunday’s attack on the Russian communications minister also comes only one week after threats were issued by Turkish hacker group, Ayyildiz, who promised to launch cyber attacks on Russian websites. At this time, however, there is no known evidence to link this attack to those threats.