The International Criminal Court revealed malicious actors illegally accessed its computer systems late last week, posing potentially dangerous ramifications for the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal.
“The International Criminal Court’s services detected anomalous activity affecting its information systems,” the ICC said Monday in a statement posted to X, formerly Twitter. “Immediate measures were adopted to respond to this cybersecurity incident and to mitigate its impact.” These measures are reportedly ongoing, and include assistance from authorities in the Netherlands, where the ICC is based.
As Reuters notes, “highly sensitive documents” under the ICC’s purview could potentially include protected witnesses’ identities, and detailed criminal evidence of war crimes. The ICC has not offered detail on what system areas and information may be potentially compromised.
Established in 2002 in The Hague to hold world leaders and countries accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the ICC is currently investigating multiple allegations across Afghanistan, the Philippines, Uganda, Venezuela, and Ukraine. In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of illegally deporting Ukrainian children. Although neither Ukraine nor Russia are ICC members, Kyiv granted the ICC the right to prosecute crimes committed within the territory. At the time, Russian authorities declared the arrest warrant “null and void.”
In an August article for the quarterly publication, Foreign Policy Analytics, ICC lead prosecutor Karim Khan announced in August the court would commit to investigating cybercrimes potentially violating the Rome Statute. First adopted in 1998, the legal treaty grants the ICC authority to prosecute war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. As of 2019, 123 nations are party to the agreement.
[Related: Why government agencies keep getting hacked.]
“Cyber warfare does not play out in the abstract. Rather, it can have a profound impact on people’s lives,” Khan wrote in August. “Attempts to impact critical infrastructure such as medical facilities or control systems for power generation may result in immediate consequences for many, particularly the most vulnerable. Consequently, as part of its investigations, my Office will collect and review evidence of such conduct.”
This isn’t the first time the ICC’s cybersecurity has been compromised. In 2011, a controversial Kenyan journalist was accused and arrested by the ICC for allegedly leaking protected witnesses’ identities online. He was later released.
PopSci has reached out to the ICC for comment, and will provide updates to this story as they become available.