Russian Killnet cyber attacks begin on Italian-linked businesses

Russian hacking on a laptop mockup with code sprawling over the screen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An alert has been issued by Italy’s Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) warning public and private sector organisations of a heightened risk of cyber attacks from pro-Russian hackers.

National public entities like governmental departments, Italian utility companies, and any public sector organisation with a brand image tied to the country of Italy are thought to be at risk, CSIRT Italy said.

The security authority did not specify the identity of the hackers of particular concern, but linked cyber attacks that took place between 11-21 May 2022 against Italian organisations to the hackers in question.

The information provided would suggest that the hackers believed to be targeting the country are the pro-Russian Killnet group.

CSIRT Italy prevented a Killnet-linked cyber attack on the voting system of the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this month. The stifled attack was believed to be an attempt to stop Ukraine from winning the competition.

Following the cyber attack against the Eurovision Song Contest, Killnet ‘declared war’ on 10 countries, including Italy, and denied that it had any involvement in the failed voting system attack.

This announcement prompted the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to issue an alert warning organisations of the eight most dangerous hacking groups that have pledged allegiance to Russia, with Killnet making the list.

The vigilante hacktivist group Anonymous, which has committed to fighting Russia in cyber space following its invasion of Ukraine, said soon after that it too was at war with Killnet.

The pro-Russian hacking group has since made various public posts about Anonymous, claiming that there is both a real and ‘fake’ Anonymous, the latter being the group targeting it.

CSIRT Italy issued its alert on Sunday, the same day an interview with Killnet was published by Italian news outlet Matrice Digitale, in which the hackers said the ‘war’ against Italy would begin at 5am on Monday.

“I want to clarify that the Italian Anonymous are nothing even for the original Anonymous to whom I send a message: our war will start on Italian territory at 05:00,” Killnet told the Italian news site - translated electronically.

“I am sending my message to all corners of the world. May the real Anonymous restore its greatness. Together we will stop the Nazis, the false government, and the weapons of the world. I declare Italy a place of war with the fake Anonymous.”

On Monday, Killnet posted to its Telegram group suggesting that CSIRT Italy had already stopped numerous attacks made by the hacking group, offering praise for its defensive capabilities.

The group claimed that thousands of other Italian and Italian-linked websites are currently down but did not publish a list “because people have to see everything for themselves”.

The group is known for making false claims about supposed successes. Most recently, it claimed to have acquired a genuine copy of NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg’s passport, a claim IT Pro verified with NATO to be false.

Italy’s postal service Poste Italiane appeared to be suffering IT issues on Monday but told la Repubblica that the disruption was due to IT issues unrelated to any Killnet-linked cyber attacks.

The Italian Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense also appeared to be offline as of Monday and at the time of writing both sites were still unreachable. There are also reports of Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) experiencing disruption, according to Downdetector.

CSIRT Italy has issued guidance to all organisations that think they may be at risk of potential cyber attacks from Killnet.

These included a list of the most-exploited security vulnerabilities by pro-Russian hackers and mitigation strategies for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

At-risk organisations have also been advised to maintain constant monitoring of all IT infrastructure, to log any anomalies, and promptly alert CSIRT Italy of any potential attacks.

Connor Jones

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.