Investigation’s silence about cyberattack on TBC Bank raises questions
Transparency International Georgia would like to respond to the reports recently disseminated about a cyberattack on TBC Bank and the connection that allegedly exists between the ruling party and this attack.
On 13 March this year, the Pirveli TV Company disseminated copies of the letters which TBC Bank sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and which concerned a possible cyberattack on the bank. In the first letter, dated 17 July 2018, a representative of the bank informs the law enforcement body about a cyberattack carried out against it. According to the letter, on 16 July, messages containing a so-called Trojan virus were delivered to the bank employees’ work electronic mailboxes. TBC Bank stated that the virus would make it possible to control the “infected” computers. It is important to mention that the company provided the Ministry of Internal Affairs with an IP address from which the cyberattack had been carried out; its second letter contained detailed information about the identity of a legal person registered under this IP address (Gravity, LLC) and this company’s address (12, Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi). In the following letters, including the one sent on 24 January 2019, TBC Bank requested information about the progress of the investigation. Unfortunately, to this day, neither the bank nor the public knows anything about the investigation results.
Several days before the letters were made public, the Rustavi 2 TV Company reported about an alleged existence of a troll factory at the address of 12, Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi. According to the TV company, they are managed by Koka Kandiashvili, a person connected to the Georgian Dream. Kandiashvili later called this information a lie.
It is also important to mention that Mamuka Khazaradze, founder of the bank, stated when speaking in Parliament on 4 March 2019 that the cyberattack was probably carried out from the same address which controlled the fake social media pages and the so-called bots. It is noteworthy that after the Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against TBC Bank on the basis of money laundering charges, posts and pages discrediting the bank founders, Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, appeared on Facebook, most likely disseminated by fake profiles (bots) connected to the government.
Cyberattack is a serious offense, widespread in the 21st century. According to the national legislation and international law, the Government of Georgia has an obligation to take all necessary measures to prevent the crimes of this category or, in the event it is committed, implement the appropriate investigative actions in order to bring the offenders to justice. “Troll attacks” have recently become a widespread trend, and it was particularly topical during the 2018 presidential pre-election period. Political opponents, as well as non-governmental organizations and their leaders, are the ones often targeted by troll attacks. Observations have shown that attacks of this nature coincide in time with the government representatives’ aggressive and offensive response to criticism.
A cyberattack against such a large financial institution as TBC Bank which provides services to thousands of citizens every day and keeps their financial and personal information is a serious offense. The investigation’s inaction with regard to this case strengthens the suspicion that the TBC Bank case is marked by possible government involvement. Unfortunately, neither the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs nor those of the National Bank responded to the publicly disseminated reports about the cyberattack.
Considering the previous experience when questions remained [unanswered] due to the inaction of investigative bodies with regard to politically sensitive cases, we call on Parliament of Georgia to create a temporary investigative commission where the case of TBC Bank, including the issue of the alleged cyberattack against the bank, would be examined in detail at public sessions. It is also necessary for Parliament to effectively monitor the investigation process.