Albanian authorities should immediately investigate a sophisticated cyber-attack against Albanian news website and hold those responsible to account, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.

Exit, an independent media platform, said its English-language edition was hit by a targeted cyber attack on April 15 which took down the website for 24 hours and tried to delete files and articles stored on the platform.

Staff said that during the attack, both the front and back end of the website became impossible to access, and visitors to the page were redirected to spam websites, many of which were flagged by virus software as containing dangerous content.

Journalists at Exit, who IPI spoke to via messaging app, said the portal’s IT technicians had “never seen anything like it” and that the attack displayed a high level of sophistication.

“This was a deliberate attack which tried to take down our database”, Alice Taylor, one of Exit’s journalists, told IPI.

It reportedly took the outlet’s webmaster a full day to get the website back up online. Exit staff told IPI the virus had targeted the WordPress database of the English edition and tried to delete articles and files stored there.

According to the IT team, this could only have happened if a journalist targeted with malware had logged in to the site, or if WordPress itself had been hacked and the virus installed directly.

“This brazen attempt to delete content for Exit Albania’s website is a direct attack against the outlet and its reporting”, Oliver Money-Kyrle, IPI Head of Europe Advocacy and Programmes, said. “Albanian police should investigate and identify those behind the attack. We call on Prime Minister Edi Rama to condemn all attempts to censor or intimidate news outlets.”

The portal and its staff have been targeted by threats and legal harassment in the past. However, this is the first time its digital systems have been targeted.

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.