Opinion Politics, 17/12/2018

Ukraine as Testing Ground for Russian Cyber Attacks Deterrence

Olexandr KRAVCHENKO

There are strong indicators that Russian federal agencies have recently enhanced their cyber attacks against Ukrainian networks and systems. The goal is to take over critical infrastructures and to steal private and secret information.

Ukrainian cybersecurity experts continue to examine these attacks and to reveal their origin to the general public both domestically and abroad. Evidence of these aggressive actions might prove to be very useful for Ukrainian representatives in future negotiations of the Minsk agreements as well as in the international courts.

As for the latest cyber-attacks, one can correlate the increasing number with three major developments:

– Ukrainian Orthodox church autocephality process;
– Minsk contact group meetings intensification;
– Ukrainian presidential elections in 2019.

Evidence of the Russian Federation’s violation of Ukrainian systems is abundant in the virtual space. Experts are certain that Russia no longer attempts to hide its activities in order to demonstrate their potential for intimidation.

For instance, according to anonymous sources, the recent attempt of attack aimed at the top-level representative of Ukrainian Presidential Administration contained two signs of Russian trace. One of the delimiters in the data package is “versiya,” which translates to English “version” but appears in the Russian language with a Latin transliteration. Besides, one of the extracted files executes the parameter “blbntdgbplerfhfgepbrb,” which is an obscene phrase in the Russian language typed on an English keyboard layout.

Furthermore, several days ago Ukraine’s Cyberpolice and Security Service of Ukraine SBU reported a powerful attack at Ukrainian notary network. Several notaries received an email in formal Ukrainian style, that by the way is suggesting that the sender knows the Ukrainian language very well. Included was a malicious attachment that was a repacked version of Russian software RMS “TektonIT.” This software has caused a lot of harm and lead to many irreversible actions.

For the past four years, Ukraine has witnessed an increasing number of high-level cyber attacks on both Ukrainian state agencies and critical infrastructures.

To mention just a few, in 2015, a first-of-its-kind cyber attack on a power grid cut the lights for thousands of people in western Ukraine. In 2017, a malware called Petya swamped websites belonging to Ukrainian organizations, including banks, ministries and electricity suppliers. It was estimated that 80 percent of all infections were in Ukraine, with Germany hit the second-hardest at about 9 percent, other countries were also affected. The estimated losses from Petya and Wannacry malware around the world total $8 billion. These attacks are attributed to Russia.

Nowadays, Ukraine is dealing with a unique situation in the security sector. A permanent “hybrid” conflict in Donbas, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, frequent cyber attacks on  critical and private infrastructures throughout Ukraine, numerous attempts to influence Ukrainian and European citizens through propaganda – these are only a portion  of the threats Ukraine faces within a “hybrid war.” Ukraine has experience in resisting these threats, but it is not sufficient as of now. This is why Ukraine needs to involve more international experts, especially in the security sector, in order to create solutions to cope with all of the threats and challenges which target Ukraine on a daily basis. Therefore international cooperation, including within NATO programs, is becoming more important than ever before.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the cybersecurity issue in the 21st century is crucial and vital.  This challenge concerns not only Ukraine, with its permanent conflict situation, but every country as well.  In order to better cope with future threats, we need to unite our efforts in this struggle. Only together can we build a cyber-safe area around European countries.