One of the world’s most high-profile and highly regarded institutions, the International Criminal Court (ICC), has reported that its computer systems have been hacked.

The ICC said that it detected unusual activity on its computer network at the end of last week, prompting an ongoing investigation.

“Immediate measures were adopted to respond to this cyber security incident and to mitigate its impact,” said the ICC in a brief statement. A spokesperson declined to comment on the nature of the hack, potential data exfiltration and possible culprits.

About the ICC

The ICC is the permanent war crimes tribunal in the Dutch city of The Hague. The tribunal was established by the Rome Statute in 2002. Its primary purpose is to prosecute individuals for serious offenses that impact the international community, including war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

As of this writing, 123 nations have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute. Seventeen different investigations are currently underway, some of which pertain to contentious, sensitive, present-day political situations.

In March, the court gained attention after issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is accused of having forcibly separated children from their families in Ukraine.

Cyber security issues

According to the president of the ICC’s bar association, Marie-Helene Proulx, lawyers for defendants and victims had been affected “in the same manner as the court’s staff” by unspecified security measures enacted in response to the cyber incident.

The ICC's corresponding X (formerly Twitter), post
The ICC’s corresponding X (formerly Twitter) post on the matter.

“We commend efforts…in securing the court’s information systems and hope that the situation will be resolved promptly,” she stated. IT teams are working to ensure that the core work of the Court can continue without further interruption.

The ICC has also pledged to bolster its cyber security posture and accelerate use of cloud-based technologies.

ICC Russia connection

In an annual report, the Dutch intelligence agency (AVID) described the ICC as a subject of interest for Russia due to an investigation into possible Russian war crimes in Georgia and Ukraine.

In 2022, AVID disclosed the discovery of a Russian military agent, Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, who attempted to infiltrate the court by impersonating a foreign national. Cherkasov, concealing his ties to Russia’s military intelligence service (the GRU), had assumed a false Brazilian identity.

ICC cyber attacks

In August of 2023, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan noted that cyber attacks could be a part of future war crimes investigations. He also warned that the ICC itself could be vulnerable to threats.

“Disinformation, destruction, the alteration of data, and the leaking of confidential information may obstruct the administration of justice at the ICC and as such constitute crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction that might be investigated and prosecuted,” he wrote in a Foreign Policy Analytics report funded by Microsoft.

“But prevention remains better than cure.”

For more on this story, please visit Reuters. For in-depth insights into cyber threat prevention, please see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, to receive more timely cyber security insights and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.