The cyberattack is just another move in Russia’s campaign of aggression against Ukraine.
A Massive Cyberattack
Last week, several Ukrainian government websites went down simultaneously, and the following warning appeared.
“Ukrainians! All your personal data will be uploaded onto the general web. All data on your computer will be destroyed, it will be impossible to restore them. All your information will become public, be afraid and expect the worse. This is for your past, present and future.
The text that appeared on the official Ukrainian websites intended to terrorize and undermine the Ukrainian population’s willingness to fight and shake their confidence in their government and military.
Ukrainian officials identified at least five government websites that had been hacked.
“As a result of a massive cyber attack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of other government agencies are temporarily down. Our specialists have already started restoring the work of IT systems, and the cyberpolice [sic] has opened an investigation,” Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated in the wake of the cyberattacks.
But the cyberattack wasn’t intended just to terrorize.
On Saturday Microsoft came out and said that the ransomware attack of earlier was actually an attempt to implant destructive malware. The tech giant stated that dozens of computer systems in several Ukrainian government departments and agencies had been infected with the malware. The extent of the damage isn’t clear.
“The malware is disguised as ransomware but, if activated by the attacker, would render the infected computer system inoperable. We’re sharing this information to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks,” Microsoft said.
A Proxy Force?
Although it isn’t clear who exactly was behind the attack (Kyiv suspects a proxy force), the Kremlin is known for encouraging or facilitating, by turning a blind eye, cyberattacks against its state and non-state adversaries. For example, several cyberattacks that came out of Russia last year, including the Colonial Pipeline hack that sent Americans across the East Coast camping at their local gas stations, were perpetrated by Russian cyber gangs that operate with the unofficial sanction of the Kremlin.
“So, we don’t have an attribution at this time. We are in touch with Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and recovers from the incident. While we continue to assess the impact to Ukrainians, it seems limited so far, with multiple websites coming back online. But I want to note, we are—you know, we and our allies and partners are concerned about this cyberattack, and the President has been briefed. But that is the status at this time,” a senior U.S. administration official said about the cyberattack.
As the world has turned increasingly digital, so has the risk and vulnerability of states and citizens.
For months now, Moscow has been threatening its neighbor with an invasion. Kyiv understands that it will be hard to stop the Russian military and has been appealing to the West for help. The Biden administration has refused to put American troops on the ground but has committed to impose a high cost on Russia if President Vladimir Putin decides to invade.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.