Ukraine’s worst cyberattack in four years brought down the websites of scores of government agencies for hours. Authorities didn’t immediately identify the source of the hacks, which took place as tensions with Russia intensified over its troop buildup across the border.
Seventy government agencies were were hit, including the Foreign and Agriculture Ministries, Viktor Zhora, the deputy head of the state agency in charge of special communication and information protection, said Friday. Authorities are investigating and will have their first conclusions later in the day, he said.
“There was no leak of important data, the content of the websites was not damaged,” Zhora said. “We are collecting digital evidence and analyzing data to understand the full chain of this attack.”
Ukraine has previously accused Russia of mounting major cyberattacks against its digital infrastructure. Relations between the two former Soviet partners have worsened since the ouster of a Russian-backed president in 2014 and Moscow’s subsequent annexation of Crimea.
In recent months, Ukraine and its allies in the U.S. and Europe have warned that Russia could be preparing to invade as it massed about 100,000 troops near the border. Moscow denies any such plans.
Countries inside the European Union, with which Ukraine has sought to deepen ties, condemned the hacks, with Poland and Sweden pointing the finger at Russia.
“The cyber attack reported by the Ukrainian side is part of the typical activities of the secret services of the Russian Federation,” said Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesman for Poland’s secret service chief. He said the message appeared to be trying to fuel tensions between Poland and Ukraine.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said earlier in the day: “We have to be very firm in our messages to Russia: that if there are attacks against Ukraine, we will be very harsh and very strong and robust in our response.”
No group claimed responsibility for the cyberattack, and a Kremlin spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would help Ukraine, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attack and said the military alliance would continue its support for Kyiv.
During the attack, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s site showed messages in the Russian, Polish and Ukrainian languages riddled with grammatical errors.
“Ukrainian! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network,” the message said. “All data on your computer is being erased and won’t be recoverable. All information about you has become public, fear and expect the worst. This is being done to you for the your past, present and future,” it said, with a reference to “historic lands.”
Ukraine’s Zhora said it is not possible to say who was behind the attack before a full investigation, adding that wews of it first surfaced in media of a “neighboring country.”
The attackers are believed to have likely taken advantage of a flaw in a type of software code, called PHP, that’s widely used to publish websites.
“Though an incident hitting several targets simultaneously may at first appear to be a complex, advanced operation, they could be the result of access to a single content management system,” said John Hultquist, the Vice President of intelligence analysis at Mandiant Inc. “It’s important not to overestimate the capability necessary to carry out this attack.”
Ukraine’s currency and bonds extend declines, with foreign-currency bonds losing more than 4% in dollar terms this week.
The U.S. and its allies have warned that Russia might use hacking or other actions short of a military operation to put pressure on Ukraine. Russia denies it uses cyber weapons offensively, but President Vladimir Putin has said what he called “patriotic hackers” may take it upon themselves to stand up for the country’s interests online.
As tensions have mounted in recent months, the U.S. and its allies have been preparing a package of sanctions to respond to a potential invasion or further acts of Russian aggression against Ukraine. It’s not clear, however, whether a cyberattack, if shown to be linked to Moscow, would trigger major retaliation.
Meetings this week between Russia and the U.S. and NATO failed to move closer to a resolution or shine light on Moscow’s intentions. The military alliance has rejected Moscow’s demands that it rule out future membership for Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states and withdraw its forces to positions it held in 1997.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov kept up the tension on Friday, saying his country won’t wait “endlessly” for a security deal.
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Cyberattack hits Ukrainian websites as Russia tensions mount (2022, January 14)
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