Photo : Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
26 February 2022, Saturday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #135
By Padmashree Anandhan
Cyber attacks in Ukraine: Four lessons
On 15 February, the banking sector of Ukraine was attacked using distributed denial of service (DDoS). The US, the UK and Australia have ascribed the attack to the Russian Main Intelligence (GRU). On 24 February, while the Russian forces moved into Ukraine waging warfare, the government of Ukraine asked the underground hacker community to volunteer to involve in protecting the critical infrastructure of the country and also to run cyber missions to spy the movement of Russian troops.
Cyber attacks on Ukraine: A brief note
The attacks aim to destabilise Ukraine. A new data wiping program found in the computers and systems of Ukraine has created a challenge for the Ukrainian cyber firms. The damaging software is expected to have spread to numerous government agencies; They have targeted defense ministry, foreign investments, government services, banking, energy, telecommunication and electricity grids. These attacks lead to disabling governmental operations, cut down signals and result in mayhem . In the past few months, Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communication spotted 113 cyber attacks in its system and is still spiking. Cyber warfare has become tool for Russia to bring instability in Ukraine. It will not be the first time as under “2017 NotPetya attack,” which is observed to the most destructive cyber attack by Russia on Ukraine’s banks, transportation and energy, which had a global impact, costing USD 10 million.
The cyber attacks affect Ukraine’s economy. With the trade doubling between Ukraine and Germany in the post-pandemic period and a series of economic deals signed between Ukraine and France have pushed Russia to re-think its approach.
Outside Ukraine, the cyber attacks have an impact on global system. On investigating the recent cyber attack launched on Ukraine, Microsoft found that the malware that was placed in the computer systems of Ukraine was critical and had the capacity to damage or spread to far targets. This means with Ukraine being the open outlet, Russia will be able to launch attack to target other countries and their critical infrastructure. Similar to “2017NotPetya attack” there is a high possibility for countries like US, UK, France, Germany, and India connected to Ukrainian to face the impact, hence there is a need for collective approach to create a defense shield in cyber space.
Cyber attacks on Ukraine: Four lessons
First, the failure of response. All parties have condemned and have threated on imposing sanctions, but has not made an impact on Russia. Even post the recent attacks on Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and the banks, the response of the US, the UK, and Australia was restricted to only condemning the attack than imposing sanctions or developing a cyber shield to protect Ukraine from similar threats.
Second, cyber defense vs cyber resources. The existing cybersecurity system of Ukraine seem fragile and vulnerable to Russia’s cyber-attacks. The attacks continue to disrupt the infrastructure of Ukraine this year despite the technology support provided by the US, the EU and the NATO. It shows the limitedness and lack in the willingness of the external powers in furthering the cyber resources to Ukraine. Hence, the gap between the cyber defense and attaining resources makes the security system of Ukraine open to future attacks.
Third, the industrial risk. Ukraine’s young population is well-known for its start-up businesses and due to continuous cyber-attacks, the businesses, the supply chains and the critical infrastructure are about to be sabotaged and the, risking the regular functioning of the industry.
Fourth, the government’s response. Ukraine has been assured by the EU regulated Cyber Rapid Response Teams to track cyber-attacks, forensics and help mitigate such threats. When it comes to facing the attack it is Ukraine’s government and its critical infra that gets targeted. Ukraine’s cyber-defense system is nowhere equal to Russia, but has tried to use it private companies, people resources in form of underworld hackers and volunteers to operate on defensive and offensive levels. This shows that the government is still on with a youthful strategy and confidence to deter Russian cyber invasion to its best extent.
Sam Sabin, “Tracking cyber’s role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” Politico, 14 February 2022
Joseph Marks and Aaron Schaffer, “Cyber’s role in the Ukraine-Russia crisis remains unclear,” The Washington Post, 15 February 2022
Keith Alexander, “Cyber warfare in Ukraine poses a threat to the global system,” Financial Times, 15 February 2022
“UK assess Russian involvement in cyber attacks on Ukraine,” Government of the UK, 18 February 2022
“Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine,” Deutsche Welle, 18 February 2022
“Attribution to Russia of malicious cyber activity against Ukraine,” Minister for Foreign Affairs, 20 February 2022
By Ashwin Dhanabalan and Joeana Cera Matthews
Ukraine: Curfew declared in Kyiv until 28 February; thousands flee the city
On 26 February, the mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko declared a curfew in the city from 1700 hours (GMT+2) that would last till the morning of 28 February. An explanatory statement by the mayor’s office maintained that the measure would allow for cleaning up the damage caused by Russian troops. Thousands of Kyiv citizens were seen evacuating the city following the announcement. The Ukrainian railway authority arranged for evacuation trains to transport the inhabitants of the city to western Ukraine. Those who failed to board the train prior to the curfew were stranded in the station. (“As it happened: Kyiv under curfew as France, Germany pledge to arm Ukraine," France24, 26 February 2022; “Ukraine live updates: Kyiv warned of toxic fumes after strike on oil depot,” BBC, 27 February 2022)
Ukraine: Poland and Sweden back out of World Cup qualifiers against Russia
On 26 February, the Polish and Swedish Football Associations announced their refusal to play the World Cup qualifiers against Russia. The qualifiers to be held in March will be a precursor to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Poland's Football Association Chief Cezary Kulesza tweeted: “In light of the escalation of the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine, the Polish national team is not going to play a match against Russian Republic. This is the only right decision. We're in talks with Swedish and Czech associations to present a common position to FIFA.” Later, the Swedish Football Association Chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said: “The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football exchanges with Russia impossible.” Earlier, on 22 February, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic had released a joint statement requesting to ban Russia from hosting the playoffs in March. FIFA is yet to respond to the request. (“Soccer-Poland, Sweden refuse to play World Cup match with Russia," Reuters, 26 February 2022)
Ukraine: Russia's midnight invasion and thermobaric "vacuum bombs" launcher spotted in Belgorod
On 26 February, Russia's invasion of Ukraine from the region of Belgorod took the inhabitants by surprise as the troops started moving in at midnight. The offensive was initiated right after Russian President Vladimir Putin's call announcement of an offensive against Ukraine. A resident, Olga, said: "My sister called me at 5:30 in the morning and told me, 'Putin announced there would be war in Ukraine.' Half an hour later it all started. We were afraid, very afraid." At the same time, the TOS-1 or TOS-1A Multiple Rocket Launcher was spotted south of Belgorod. These weapons are called vacuum bombs as they suck oxygen and are filled with high-temperature, high-pressure explosives than conventional ammunition. ("War in Ukraine: Invasion takes Russians near the border by surprise," France24, 26 February 2022; Fred Pleitgen, Ivana Kottasová and Tim Lister, "Russian thermobaric "vacuum bombs" launcher seen by CNN team in Ukraine," CNN, 26 February 2022)
France seizes Russian cargo ship
On 26 February, a cargo ship called the ‘Baltic Leader’ was seized by French authorities as it was suspected to belong to Russian interests that had sanctions imposed on it. The ship was headed for St Petersburg but was eventually diverted to the port in northern France called Boulogne-sur-Mer. The US Treasury Department said the owner company had sanctions "for operating or having operated in the defense and related materiel and financial services sectors of the Russian Federation economy." However, the owner Promsvyazbank said, it no longer owned the ship as it was sold to a different entity before the sanctions were in place. ("France seizes cargo vessel targeted by US sanctions on Russia," France24, 26 February 2022)
Germany announces supply of weapons and equipment to Ukraine
On 26 February, Germany retracted its policy and assured Ukraine of a supply of military equipment in its fight against Russia. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: "It threatens our entire post-war order. In this situation, it is our duty to do our utmost to support Ukraine in defending itself against Vladimir Putin's invading army. Germany stands closely by Ukraine's side." The German government assured the supply of 1,00 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems. ("Germany to send Ukraine weapons in historic shift on military aid," POLITICO, 26 February 2022)
Ukraine: Third round of Western sanctions ban key Russian banks from SWIFT
On 26 February, major Russian banks were taken off the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) messaging system. The secure network permits rapid cross-border payments facilitating foreign trade. The third round of sanctions from the West also saw threats to Russia’s central bank. The joint statement released by the US, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, the UK and the European Commission read: “As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies." The move was previously termed as a “financial nuclear weapon” by the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire due to its potentially devastating impact on the Russian economy. (Maria Tsvetkova and Aleksandar Vasovic, "Western allies to expel key Russian banks from global system; Ukraine vows to fight on," Reuters, 26 February 2022)