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Cyber attack a ‘serious attempt to undermine’ International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has released new details regarding the breach it suffered last month.

user iconDaniel Croft 27 October 2023 The Bar
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Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, Cyber Daily.

The attack, which occurred in September, saw hackers breach the court’s systems; however, the ICC said it would not elaborate on the nature of the attack, only revealing that it had launched an investigation.

“Immediate measures were adopted to respond to this cyber security incident and to mitigate its impact,” the court said in a statement posted to X (formerly Twitter).


Now, the ICC has released a new statement saying that evidence analysed as part of the investigation concludes that the threat actors were sophisticated and intended to conduct an espionage operation.

“The evidence available thus far indicates a targeted and sophisticated attack with the objective of espionage,” the ICC said in a statement.

“The attack can, therefore, be interpreted as a serious attempt to undermine the court’s mandate.”

The ICC has remained tight-lipped when it comes to what part of its systems, what data was accessed, and the affected parties, but has said that at this stage, no evidence suggests that the court has been compromised.

It has also not assigned blame to any threat actor yet, saying that there is a lack of sufficient evidence at this juncture.

Following the initial announcement of the attack, the ICC said that it already had plans to bolster its cyber security and that the attack would see it further build on those plans.

“Looking forward, the court will be building on existing work presently underway to strengthen its cyber security framework, including accelerating its use of cloud technology,” it said.

The ICC has likely drawn the attention of threat actors from nations that are being investigated for war crimes.

The court is currently conducting 17 investigations into war crimes in Ukraine, Uganda, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Venezuela and more.

If documents have been stolen, they could very likely be highly sensitive details of specific cases or contain the information of prosecutors or staff.

The court also came under the spotlight when it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the alleged illegal deportation of children from Ukraine, an accusation that Russia has rejected.

Last year, the Dutch intelligence agency said the ICC was of interest to Russia due to its investigation of Russian war crimes. It also found that a Russian military agent had attempted to infiltrate the ICC.

State-sponsored Russian cyber attacks are becoming more and more common, particularly as the conflict in Ukraine continues to develop.

Earlier this month, the ICC announced that it will now prosecute cyber war crimes, something Ukraine has been requesting for several months.

“As states and other actors increasingly resort to operations in cyber space, this new and rapidly developing means of statecraft and warfare can be misused to carry out or facilitate war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and even the aggression of one state against another,” said ICC lead prosecutor Karim Khan said.

“Attempts to impact critical infrastructure such as medical facilities or control systems for power generation may result in immediate consequences for many, particularly the most vulnerable.

“Consequently, as part of its investigations, my office will collect and review evidence of such conduct.”

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