Against kyiv, secret but real cyber attacks

Not a resounding cyber-attack, not a complete calm, but a perfectly organized project of constant harassment aimed at Ukraine: this is the reality of the digital side of Russia’s aggression against the country, three months after the start of the conflict.

At the beginning of the invasion, some experts predicted a frenzy of cyberattacks that caused massive damage in Ukraine to escort the first Russian tanks and missiles. This major cyber attack never came, raising questions and debates among cyber-watchers, with some believing that Russia did not adequately prepare the “cyber” side for its invasion, or even simply abandoned this area of ​​conflict.

Read also The War in Ukraine: Why Cyber ​​Attacks Look So Limited Right Now

Three months into the attack, we’re starting to see things more clearly thanks to the work of analysts and cybersecurity experts. Numerically, Ukraine was not spared from it, and Russia put all its forces into battle, in a ready manner and in accordance with its military operation.

This is one of the lessons learned from a Microsoft report published at the end of April. The experts of the American company gained access to a lot of data from computers located in Ukraine. According to them, six separate hacking groups of the Russian intelligence and security services carried out, using eight different programs “Almost forty” Attacks that aim to destroy data and also make computer networks unusable “two to three a week” Since the days before the invasion. These attacks targeted Ukrainian state services and the country’s critical infrastructure.

This wave of attacks has been prepared for a long time: Microsoft says it has found signs of it since March 2021. According to the company, the first moves of Russian troops to the Ukrainian border Then it is accompanied by digital espionage operations targeting the Ukrainian army. In the middle of 2021, Russian hackers continue their operations in search of information about the military, diplomacy or humanitarian actors present in the country. It also hacks organizations that would potentially serve as a gateway to targeting Ukraine and its NATO allies: this is the case, for example, of a subcontractor with the Ukrainian military, which was hacked. At the end of the year, Russian hackers set up their counters in preparation for attacks with subversive goals that set off from the invasion.

Attacks consistent with Russian objectives

While the impact of these cyberattacks has likely been low on the battlefield, these digital attacks are well aligned with Russia’s strategic goals, which consist of “Disrupting or weakening the Ukrainian government and military functions and [à] undermine public trust in these particular institutions.”Microsoft explains again.

Thus, Russia bears responsibility for the attack, which targeted modems connected to the Vyasat satellite network. This operation, of an unprecedented nature, caused a major disruption of the military communications of the Ukrainian army while the Russian army began its invasion attempt. Another example of this synergy between digital and military operations, Launch, 1Verse March of destructive software against a “Big Broadcasting Corporation”According to Microsoft that did not mention the last name. On the same day, Russian raids targeted the Kyiv TV tower, disrupting the broadcast of some channels.

Read also: The war in Ukraine: Russia accused of being behind the cyber-attack targeting the KA-SAT satellite network

Ukrainian authorities remain extremely cautious about the damage caused by the attacks. In recent weeks, they doubled down on their statements that the worst was over and that their defenses were able to hold back the attacks, the number of which would have stabilized. “We are the first country in the world that has survived and won electronic warfare.” The head of Ukraine’s Cyber ​​Security Agency Yuri Shehul received journalists on May 4. “There was not a single significant victory for the Russians” In cyberspace, Mikhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, boasted in mid-May. Somewhat contrary to these statements, Microsoft noted in its report that various Russian cyberattacks were indeed “Disruption of the work of the target organizations”.

Ukraine’s good resistance to these attacks can be explained, in part, by the foreign aid the country receives. Several specialized Western companies regularly help Ukraine on the digital front: Microsoft claims to have created a file ‘secure line’ With the authorities since the beginning of the conflict to assist them in their defensive mission. US Cyber ​​Command also conducted a reconnaissance mission to Ukraine in December. Moreover, even if Kyiv never officially recognized it, the country undoubtedly receives a lot of information from Western authorities, especially the United States, regarding computer threats. Finally, in the same way that Ukrainian fighters were strengthened by eight years of armed conflict in the Donbass, cyber-defenders can count on the long experience of Russian digital attacks, which did not begin with the war.

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