Three Albanian online media portals have reported cyberattacks in the last three days leading to SafeJournalists network to call for authorities to investigate.
At least six portals including Ora News, Dosja, Syri, Faktor, Lapsi, and SportExpress all reported external interference on their sites, starting on Monday 24 January. The alleged attacks include the artificial increase of traffic to crash the site making it difficult to access.
Blerjana Bino, SafeJournalists researcher in Albania, stated, “ The digital safety of online media portals and their staff is crucial. It is important for media outlets to report these attacks to the authorities, who on the other hand must ensure proper investigation and transparency. It is also important to develop media outlets’ capacities and infrastructure in terms of digital safety.”
SafeJournalists, which represents more than 8,200 professionals in the Western Balkans reported they are concerned about the attacks which they say “appear to be very well coordinated”. They urged the authorities to take swift action and launch an investigation into who is behind the attacks.
The portals have accused Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj of being behind them as they say the attacks started after they published a recording of him using obscene language to pressure football stakeholders to vote against current Albanian Football Federation chief Armand Duka.
So far, Mayor Veliaj has accepted that the audio recording is authentic but has made no declaration regarding the cyber-attacks.
The portals admitted they do not have evidence to link the attacks to Veliaj, but they found it strange that it targeted those who had published the recording.
“It is very important to investigate who is behind these attacks and possibly remove the suspicion that the media is currently directing at Mayor Erion Veliaj. We expect full transparency of the investigation and follow up regarding the specific measures to be taken,” they wrote in a statement.
Questions on whether an investigation has been initiated were directed to the Coordinators for the Access to Information of the Prosecution and the Directory of the Police, but no answer was given.
Cyber attacks against media in Albania are not uncommon. Exit.al was subjected to a sophisticated attack in 2020 where a nefarious actor attempted to delete the portal’s entire database of articles. The IT team, who said the attack was unlike what they had seen before, were able to gain control of the site before significant damage was done.