The Swiss defence ministry and government-owned defence firm, RUAG, was targeted by hackers in January, the defence minister has confirmed.
“The attacks were industrial espionage,” Defence Minister Guy Parmelin told the Swiss daily newspapers Tages-Anzeiger and The Bund in an interview on Wednesday.
According to the news report, Russia is suspected of being behind the computer attacks. The Russian embassy in Bern has not commented on the issue.
The Tages-Anzeiger has also quoted Alex Kuprecht, head of the Swiss parliamentary business affairs committee (GPdel), as saying that the tip-off over the attacks came from a foreign intelligence service.
Parmelin said the spying took place during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos this year.
“We managed to be operational despite the hack,” he added.
The hackers caused no damage to the defence ministry or federal administration network, the defence ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Swiss Intelligence Service informed the Attorney General’s Office in January that it suspected the computers of the government-owned defence firm Ruag had been infected by malware. The Swiss Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation.
After being notified, Parmelin immediately informed the cabinet and relevant ministries. A cabinet delegation was given the responsibility of beefing up IT security. The government approved a total of 14 short and medium-term security measures on March 23 but these have not been communicated.
Ruag and the Swiss army, which hold close ties, both share various computer systems. A defence task force is also investigating whether the cyber attack could have extended to other parts of the federal administration.
On Wednesday, the parliamentary business affairs committee had criticised the secrecy surrounding the attack against Ruag. They claim they were informed about it at the end of January and briefed on several occasions. Despite various requests to the government to inform the public, the government has preferred to remain quiet up to now.
This is not the first computer attack against government computer networks. The federal authorities have already been the target of hackers three times since 2011. In October 2009 hackers used malware to target the Swiss foreign ministry, entering its computer network and accessing various sensitive documents.
In March of this year the country’s largest political party, the conservative right Swiss People’s Party as well as the Federal Railways both confirmed that they had been the target of hackers.