Russian missile strikes overshadow cyberattacks as Ukraine reels from blackouts

Date:


Washington
CNN

Russia has bombarded Ukrainian cities with missile and drone strikes in the past month, targeting civilians and large parts of the country’s critical infrastructure.

On Monday, 40% of Kiev residents were without water and widespread power outages were reported across the country. On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “energy terrorism” and said about 4.5 million Ukrainian consumers were temporarily disconnected from power.

The destruction illustrates how, eight months after the war against Ukraine, indiscriminate bombing remains the Kremlin’s favored tactic. Moscow’s vaunted hacking capabilities, meanwhile, continue to play a peripheral, rather than central, role in the Kremlin’s efforts to dismantle Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

“Why burn your cyber capabilities, when you can achieve the same goals through kinetic attacks?” a senior US official told CNN.

But experts who spoke to CNN suggest that the question of why Russia’s cyberattacks haven’t had a more visible effect on the battlefield is probably more at play.

Effectively combining cyber and kinetic operations “requires a high degree of integrated planning and execution,” argued a US military official focused on cyber defense. “The Russians can’t even pull that off between their aviation, artillery and ground attack forces.”

A lack of verifiable information about successful cyber attacks during the war complicates the picture.

A Western cybersecurity official said the Ukrainians are unlikely to publicly reveal the full extent of the impact of Russian hacks on their infrastructure and their correlation to Russian missile attacks. That could deprive Russia of understanding the effectiveness of their cyber operations and in turn affect Russia’s war planning, the official said.

Certainly, a spate of suspected Russian cyber-attacks has hit several Ukrainian industries, and some of the hacks have correlated with Russia’s military objectives. But the kind of high-impact hack that disables power or transportation networks was largely lacking.

Nowhere was that more evident than the past weeks of Russian drone and missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. That stands in stark contrast to 2015 and 2016 when, after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, it was Russian military hackers, not bombs, that plunged more than a quarter of a million Ukrainians into darkness.

“All Ukrainian citizens now live in these conditions,” said Victor Zhora, a senior cybersecurity official of the Ukrainian government, referring to the power outages and water shortages. “Imagine an ordinary day with constant interruptions to power or water supplies, mobile communications, or everything together.”

Cyber ​​operations targeting industrial facilities can take many months to plan, and after the explosion in early October of a bridge connecting Crimea to Russia, Putin sought to “go for a big, ostentatious public response to the attack on the bridge.” the president said. said a senior US official.

But officials tell CNN that Ukraine also deserves credit for its improved cyber defenses. In April, Kiev claimed to have thwarted a hacking attempt at power plants by the same group of Russian military hackers that caused power outages in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.

The human toll of war has overshadowed those triumphs.

Ukrainian cybersecurity officials have had to avoid shelling for months while doing their job: protecting government networks from Russian spy agencies and criminal hackers.

Four officials of one of Ukraine’s main cyber and communications agencies — the State Agency for Special Communications and Information Protection (SSSCIP) — were killed in rocket attacks on Oct. 10, the agency said in a press release. The four officials had no cybersecurity responsibilities, but their loss weighed heavily on cybersecurity officials at the agency during another grim month of war.

Hackers associated with Russian espionage and military agencies have for years targeted Ukrainian government agencies and critical infrastructure with a variety of hacking tools.

At least six different Kremlin-linked hacking groups conducted nearly 240 cyber operations against Ukrainian targets leading up to and weeks after the Russian invasion in February, Microsoft said in April. That includes a hack, which the White House blamed on the Kremlin for disrupting satellite internet communications in Ukraine on the eve of the Russian invasion.

“I don’t think Russia would measure success in cyberspace by a single attack,” the Western official said, rather “by their cumulative effect” of trying to take down the Ukrainians.

But there are now open questions among some private analysts and US and Ukrainian officials about the extent to which Russian government hackers have already used up or “burned” some of their more sensitive access to Ukrainian critical infrastructure in previous attacks. Hackers often lose access to their original access to a computer network once discovered.

In 2017, as the Russian hybrid war in eastern Ukraine continued, Russian military intelligence unleashed destructive malware known as NotPetya, according to the Justice Ministry and private investigators. The incident cost the global economy billions of dollars by disrupting shipping giant Maersk and other multinationals.

That operation involved identifying commonly used Ukrainian software, infiltrating it and injecting malicious code to weaponize it, said Matt Olney, director of threat intelligence and interdiction at Talos, Cisco’s threat intelligence unit.

“That was all just as amazingly effective as the final product,” said Olney, who has had a team in Ukraine for years responding to cyber incidents. “And that takes time and it requires opportunities that you sometimes can’t just conjure up.”

“I’m pretty sure [the Russians] I wish they had what they burned during NotPetya,” Olney told CNN.

Zhora, the Ukrainian official who is deputy chairman at SSSCIP, called on Western governments to tighten sanctions on Russia’s access to software tools that could power its hacking arsenal.

“We shouldn’t ignore the chance that [Russian government hacking] groups are currently working on some very complex attacks that we will observe later,” Zhora told CNN. “It is highly unlikely that all Russian military hackers and government-controlled groups are on vacation or bankrupt.”

Tanel Sepp, Estonia’s general ambassador for cyber affairs, told CNN that it is possible the Russians may embark on a “new wave” of staged cyber attacks as their battle continues on the battlefield.

“Our main goal is to isolate Russia as much as possible from the international stage,” Sepp said, adding that the former Soviet state has not communicated with Russia on cybersecurity issues for months.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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