Ukraine-Russia crisis: free for all but no serious cyber attacks

Russia has some of the best hackers in the world, but in the early days of the war in Ukraine, its ability to wreak havoc through malware hasn’t had much effect.

Instead, it is Ukraine that has marshalled sympathetic volunteer hackers in an unprecedented collective global effort to pay the Kremlin to wage war on its neighbor. It’s a kind of cyber free-for-all that experts say increases the risk in a moment already full of extraordinary danger after the Russian president Vladimir Putin Put your nuclear forces on alert.

As of now, Ukraine’s internet mostly works, its president is still able to garner global support via a smartphone, and its power plants and other critical infrastructure are still able to function. The kind of devastating cyberattacks that were expected to accompany a massive Russian military offensive have not happened.

Michael Daniels, a former White House cyber security coordinator, said, “It’s not as large a component as some thought and it certainly hasn’t been seen outside Ukraine to the extent that people feared.” “Of course, that can still change.”

It is not clear why Russia has not reached out to a more powerful cyber punch. Russia may have determined that the impact would not be severe enough – Ukraine’s industrial base is far less digitized than Western countries, for one. Or Russia may have determined that it cannot cause serious harm to Ukraine without risking collateral influence outside its borders.

Many cyber security experts believe that the Kremlin, at least for now, prefers to keep Ukraine’s communications open to the value of intelligence.

Whatever the reasons, the early days of the conflict have been marked by low-level cyberattacks that appear to be perpetrated by both freelancers and state actors.

Before the attack, hackers knocked offline or disfigured Ukrainian government websites and wiped some servers with destructive malware. Now, an ad-hoc army of hackers – some marshalled online by Ukraine’s SBU security service – are claiming credit for the removals and distortions of Russian government and media sites.

A volunteer group that calls itself Ukraine’s IT Army has over 230,000 followers on its Telegram channel and is constantly listing targets for hackers, such as Russian banks and cryptocurrency exchanges.

On Monday, Ukraine’s SBU made its recruitment of affiliated volunteer hackers official.

“The cyber front is now open! Help Ukrainian cyber experts to hack occupiers’ platforms!” it said on its Telegram channel, seeking suggestions about vulnerabilities in Russian cybersecurity, including software bugs and login credentials Huh.

“This is the first time that states have openly called on citizens and volunteers to cyberattack in another state,” said Harvard Anthropology professor Gabriella Coleman.

The move reflects Ukraine’s dependence on its citizens for other areas of defence.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that Ukraine is plunging into all possible resources to fight the Russians, a much stronger enemy. As civilians are coming out to fight in the street, I’m not surprised that they’re going through the digital space. Trying to call on citizens to come forward to support this,” said Gary Korn, a retired Army colonel who served as general counsel for US Cyber ​​Command.

A hacker group that first surfaced last year, the Belarus Cyber ​​Partisans, claimed on Monday that it had disrupted some rail service in Ukraine’s northern neighbor Belarus, prompting attacks by parts of Russia’s military. The group is trying to frustrate Russian military and hardware movements through Belarus.

Sergei Voitekhovich, a former Belarusian railway employee who works in railroads Wire The group, told The Associated Press that digital sabotage by cyberpartisans paralyzed train traffic for 90 minutes in Belarus on Sunday. He said that till Monday evening the sale of electronic tickets was still not working.

The Cyber ​​Partisans hack was aimed at disrupting the activities of Russian troops in Belarus and was the second such action in a little over a month. Voitekhovich said the current attack delayed two Russian military trains bound for Belarus from the Russian city of Smolensk. His story could not be independently verified. Voitekhovich talks to AP from Poland. He said that police pressure forced him to leave Belarus.

Pro-Russian ransomware criminals from the Conti gang recently posted on the group’s dark web site a promise to “use all our possible resources to attack the enemy’s critical infrastructure” if Russia were to be attacked. Shortly after, sensitive chat logs that appeared to belong to the gang were leaked online.

As parties on both sides vow more serious cyberattacks, experts say there are real risks of the situation spiraling out of control.

“De-escalation and peace in itself would be hard enough to worry about without outsourced hacking,” said Jay Haley, a cyber conflict expert at Columbia University, who has long seen the private sector “hack back” against a Russian or other state. There has been opposition to giving. -Supported Cyber ​​Attack.

To complicate things further: potential “false flag” operations in which hackers pretend to be someone else when launching an attack, a feature in cyber conflicts. It is almost always hard to give credit in cyber attacks and it can be even more so in the fog of war.

Some cyber attacks have already happened. Several hours before Russia’s invasion, catastrophic cyber attacks hit Ukraine’s digital infrastructure, damaging hundreds of computers with “viper” malware – including a financial institution and offices in neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, cyber security researchers said. organizations are included.

Microsoft director Brad Smith said in a statement on Monday that such attacks on civilian targets “raise serious concerns under the Geneva Conventions.”

Smith noted that the cyberattacks – like a series of similar attacks in mid-January – “have been precisely targeted, and we have not seen the use of indiscriminate malware technology that penetrates Ukraine’s economy and beyond its borders in 2017. Notepetya spreads the attack,” referring to a “viper” that has caused over $10 billion (about Rs 75,310 crore) globally by infecting companies doing business in Ukraine with malware through a tax preparation software update. caused more damage.

The West blames Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency for that attack, as well as some of the other most damaging cyberattacks on record, including a pair in 2015 and 2016, which briefly knocked out parts of Ukraine’s power grid. .

So far, nothing like this has happened in this conflict. But officials say it may come.

“I am pleasantly surprised so far that Russia has not carried out more major cyber attacks against Ukraine,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner said at an event on Monday. “Do I expect Russia to up its game on cyber? Exactly.”

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