Cyber security

Cybersecurity in Azerbaijan, practices of Armenia and other countries

Rashad Ibrahizmade Analysis 18 May 2022
Cybersecurity in Azerbaijan, practices of Armenia and other countries

Information and communication technologies (ITC) develop rapidly and doing business, serving people, communicating, works with government authorities becomes more fast and productive each day.

However, despite these opportunities and advantages, ITC created new threats for individuals and governments which require complex, urgent solutions and new kinds of defence. This threat is called a cyber-attack which is carried out by one person, a group of people or even governments.  According to the World Economic Forum's 2018 report, cyber-attacks rank third on the list of global threats after natural disasters and climate change issues. This report demonstrates the scale and catastrophic results of the cyberwar.

The main reasons for cyber-attacks might include financial gain, collection of secret information, spying and causing major economic losses. Businesses, organizations and governments take serious steps to defend networks, data, and electronic systems to prevent or mitigate the possible damages. Cyber security is the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks. This is the definition of cyber security defined on the website of Kaspersky company which is a well known cyber security company in the world.

During the Karabakh war, more than 2500 cyber-attacks had been carried out against the Azerbaijan government authority’s main websites and information services by Armenian hacker groups. In April 2022, the Databases of the Compulsory Insurance Bureau of Azerbaijan Republic were hacked.  It is claimed that more than 40 million pieces of individual information were stolen and the attack was realized by an unidentified hacker nicknamed Angry Boy. So, Azerbaijan also faces cyber-attacks like other countries from Armenia and other cybercriminals.

Cyber-attacks can cause major issues for governments and business entities including massive financial losses, interruptions to the operation of critical infrastructure, and disruptions of crucial software supply chains. The hackers' targets could include important infrastructure elements such as power grids, water treatment systems and other vital urban facilities. In modern times, cybersecurity is becoming a strategic national issue that affects all levels of society.

There are two main areas in Azerbaijan that require basic precautionary measures to ensure cyber security: oil-gas pipelines and energy systems. In many countries around the world, special services have been set up to successfully prevent cyber-attacks on important government websites, as well as to protect computers in defence, and critical civil and industrial systems.

In Azerbaijan, the State Service for Special Communication and Information Security and Electronic Security Service under the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport are two separate government services which each of them have distinct regulations and responsibilities. 

State Service for Special Communication and Information Security (SSSCIS) is an effective mechanism for detecting and preventing threats to government web resources and the country's internet space as a whole. Some tasks of SSSCIS include collecting, analyzing and gathering information about cyber threats, giving advice related to the selection of software and hardware to ensure computer security, preventing the possible cyber-attacks, assisting government bodies on cybersecurity issues, studying the international practices and cooperating with the respective cybersecurity centres of other states.

Another state service in this field is Electronic Security Service. It is established under the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport following the 5th part of decree 708 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated 26 September 2012. Electronic Security Service is a state coordinating body which engages in coordinating the action of information infrastructure subjects, reporting about existing and potential electronic threats at the country level, educating the public, private and other institutions in the field of cyber security and providing methodological assistance to them.

As a result of the activities of these state services, Azerbaijan was ranked 40th among 194 member states (2020) in ITU Global Cybersecurity Index. Azerbaijan rose 15 positions in the ranking scoring a total of 89.31 points. The International Telecommunication Union is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for many matters related to information and communication technologies.

The Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) is a trusted reference that measures the commitment of countries to cybersecurity at a global level. Each country’s level of development or engagement is assessed along five pillars – (i) Legal Measures, (ii) Technical Measures, (iii) Organizational Measures, (iv) Capacity Development, and (v) Cooperation – and then aggregated into an overall score. Azerbaijan also ranked third among the CIS countries after Russia and Kazakhstan.

Cybersecurity has been declared one of the priorities of foreign policy in numerous countries (for example, the United States, the European Union, Russia). Therefore many developed have already created their national cybersecurity strategies. A national cybersecurity strategy is a tool to improve the security and resilience of national information infrastructures and services. The United States was the first country to recognize cybersecurity as a national strategy. In 2003, the National Cyber Security Strategy was adopted in the USA.

In 2005 Germany, 2007 Sweden and 2010, Canada cybersecurity-related strategies were adopted. The importance of this strategy becomes more comprehensible while cyber-threats show diversity and increase in numbers. Relative state bodies have already been working on the national strategy of information and cyber security in Azerbaijan.

This strategy will cover 2021-to 2025. The strategy will be presented to the public after approval. When talking about delays in his interview with the APA media agency, the chief manager of Microsoft Azerbaijan Qachay Mirzeyev stated that delays in the adoption of the strategy are directly related to rapidly changing trends in this area. The strategy has been developed based on international experience, and for this purpose, the experience of Europe and other countries has been fully studied. The strategy reflects the potential cyber threats against Azerbaijan, measures to prevent them, the implementation of cyber security measures in critical infrastructure, training and many other issues.

During the post-conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, many cyber-attacks have been observed. Even today some Armenia cybercriminals continue to attack necessary government web services, banks, and electronic systems. The existence of the revanchist groups surely predicts the potential future cyber-attacks from Armenia. Therefore, implemented activities, legislation, and all other practices related to cybersecurity in Armenia need to be analyzed and followed regularly.

In the report called “Armenia: Digital Data, Resilience and Policy Assessment” which was prepared for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by ITU experts with support and guidance from the Ministry of High-Tech Industry of the Republic of Armenia, the Public Service Commission of the Republic of Armenia, and the Union of Operators of Armenia cybersecurity of the country has been assessed and given some key recommendations to improve it.

Armenia’s ITU global cybersecurity index was 50.47 which placed it 90th in the world. Focusing on components of Armenia’s cybersecurity, there are only 587 secure Internet servers per 1 million people (ranked 104th in the world) and there is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack rate of 1 Tbit/sec (ranked 117th in the world).

Compared to Armenia’s peers, Kyrgyzstan’s cybersecurity index is slightly lower at 49.64 (92nd position) and Georgia and Kazakhstan have better cybersecurity indexes of 81.06 (55th position) and 93.15 (31st position), respectively. In terms of secure Internet servers, Armenia is slightly better than Kyrgyzstan with 420 secure Internet servers per million people and not as many as Georgia and Kazakhstan with 3,305 (71st position) and 3,307 (72nd position), respectively.

Armenia was repeatedly targeted by cyber-attacks in 2020, often defacing Armenian government websites or getting citizens’ private data.  Increasing the level of security of Armenian Internet infrastructure could prevent these attacks by, for example, using the ITU CyberDrills94 for Armenia’s CERT capacity building and ensuring that more of its Internet servers are secure. Armenia, however, did perform well in the adoption of secure DNS (DNSSEC) to prevent DNS cache poisoning.  Key recommendations mentioned in the report are as following.

- Using the ITU CyberDrills initiative for capacity building

- Increasing the number of secure internet servers

- Continuing to adopt Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) across Internet infrastructure in Armenia

An agreement on cooperation in the field of information security has been signed between the governments of Armenia and Russia on 19 April 2022, the press service of the Russian Security Council informs. Particularly, the parties will cooperate in countering threats in the area, and will exchange data to define, prevent, suppress and investigate offences related to the use of information and communication technologies for terrorism and other criminal purposes.

On behalf of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia, the agreement was signed by the secretaries of the security councils of the two countries Nikolai Patrushev and Armen Grigoryan. This agreement will enable Armenian cybersecurity services to learn practices of major cybersecurity defence mechanisms and attacks from the main actor in cyberspace.

Cyberattack methods and scenarios are automated and industrialized every year, and the cost of cyberattack tools is declining. This increases the demand for highly qualified personnel in the field of cybersecurity. Highly skilled cyber experts should be prepared in Azerbaijan. 

On July 12, 2021, State Security Service held a cyber camp in Bilgah. The main aim of this summer camp was to select students who have fundamental knowledge and practical skills in programming, operating systems, social media platforms, robotics and form cybersecurity skills from an early age. Our country should implement those kinds of cyber camps more frequently, especially with the support of the relevant state services. The national strategy of information and cyber security in Azerbaijan should also be completed and adopted as soon as possible. This will have a huge impact on the development of cybersecurity.