Ukraine Hit With Cyberattack as Fear of Russian Invasion Looms Large

Ukraine Hit With Cyberattack as Fear of Russian Invasion Looms Large
Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman watches through spyglass in a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Avdiivka, southeastern Ukraine, on January 9, 2022. (Photo: Anatolii Stepanova / AFP, Getty Images)

Government websites in Ukraine were hit with a cyberattack early Friday, with some domains defaced to tell users their information had been compromised. The attack comes as Russia continues a military build-up along its border with Ukraine and talks between Russian and U.S. leaders over a potential invasion of the former Soviet state have gone nowhere.

Roughly fifteen Ukrainian government websites were impacted, according to cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Emergency Services, the Treasury, as well as the office of Environmental Protection.

Ukraine embassy websites in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, among others, also went offline and continued to be inaccessible as of 4:30 a.m. ET. When the Ukrainian websites were still up, they reportedly displayed threatening messages in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, according to screenshots posted on social media.

“Ukrainian! All your personal data was uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” one message on a Ukrainian government website read, according to an English-language translation by Reuters. Another message read, “Be afraid and expect the worst.”

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the cyberattack on Twitter, explaining that, “Our specialists have already started restoring the work of IT systems, and the cyberpolice has opened an investigation.”

Ukrainian security services have denied any personal data has been compromised, according to the AFP, and so far it appears the attack is only a matter of vandalism and a distributed denial of service, or DDoS attack, when websites become so overloaded with traffic from attackers that they no longer load.

The cyberattack has not been attributed to any state or individual yet, though hackers connected to Russia would be the most likely suspects. The Russian government has previously denied being involved in any attacks on Ukrainian websites. Russian leaders have also denied being involved in the hack of Democratic Party emails in 2016 which helped elect former President Donald Trump, something Moscow was most definitely behind.

Russia has instigated a massive military build-up along its border with Ukraine, a situation that worries the U.S., an ally of the former Soviet country, as the New York Times notes:

Russia is demanding that NATO drastically scale back its presence near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe, including stopping all military cooperation with Ukraine and providing legally binding guarantees that the country will never join the alliance. Mr. Ryabkov said that dialogue with the United States was continuing but also warned that Mr. Putin was receiving options from the military about what to do “in the case of a deterioration of the situation.”

Those options, analysts and Western officials believe, are likely to involve new Russian military action against Ukraine. Joining this week’s discussions for the first time on Thursday, Ukraine said it had identified 106,000 Russian troops and 1,500 tanks near its border, and accused Moscow of pointing a “gun at our common European security.”

Why exactly have talks deteriorated between the U.S. and Russia over a possible invasion of Ukraine? Some experts believe Russia has been testing American boundaries and that President Vladimir Putin believes Biden has no interest in getting involved in a shooting war with anyone at the moment — something that seems pretty obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.

From War on the Rocks:

Moscow appears to believe that the Biden administration is better placed for serious deal-making at the moment. First, because there is an increasing domestic demand in the United States for a more restrained foreign policy that has supporters on both sides of the political aisle. Greater reliance on diplomacy was also stressed by Biden’s team during the campaign as one of his signature policies. Second, and most importantly, Moscow is sceptical that Biden is going to run for a second term and therefore may be thinking about his political legacy now. “Building back better” and getting America in shape for the century’s most important showdown with China are the two prime goals. A messy, protracted conflict with Russia that may also tie America’s hands in other regions would distract resources and impede the achievement of both goals.

But Biden’s reluctance to send American soldiers in uniform to go fight an ally’s battles doesn’t mean the U.S. wouldn’t be involved in any conflict in the region. In fact, the CIA has reportedly been training paramilitaries for Ukraine at an undisclosed facility in the southern U.S., something the agency denies.

Whatever happens, it’s clear we’re living through a New Cold War, that sadly has many similar qualities of the first, which raged from 1945 until the fall of dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.