Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Disruption comes as tensions with Russia escalate as NATO and EU pledge to help Kiev resist further attacks.

A massive cyber attack on Friday left Ukrainian government websites temporarily unavailable, officials said.

Although it was not clear who was behind the cyber attack, the disruption intensified amid tensions with Russia and after talks between Moscow and the West failed to make any significant progress this week.

Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, told the Associated Press it was too early to say who was behind the attack, “but there is a long history of Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine in the past.”

Moscow has previously denied involvement in cyberattacks against Ukraine.

The websites of the country’s cabinet, seven ministries, the treasury, the national emergency service and the civil services website, where Ukrainians’ electronic passports and vaccination certificates are stored, were temporarily unavailable on Friday due to the burglary.

The sites contained a message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish saying that Ukrainians’ personal data had been leaked in the public domain.

“Be afraid and expect the worst. It is for your past, present and future, ”the message read in part.

Ukraine’s civil service for special communications and information protection said no personal data was leaked. Most affected sites were repaired later Friday and no critical infrastructure was affected.

Oleh Derevianko, a leading private sector expert and founder of the ISSP cyber security firm, said the timing of the breach and the provocative message could be important.

It could be “part of a planned hybrid attack or longer-term and more sophisticated cyber operation that is ongoing but has not peaked,” Derevianko said, the main question being whether it is an independent hacktivist action or part of a larger state-sponsored operation.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have risen sharply in recent months after Moscow assembled an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, fueling fears of an invasion.

Moscow has said it has no plans to attack, rejecting Washington’s demand to withdraw its forces, saying it has the right to deploy them where necessary.

The Kremlin has demanded security guarantees from the West that NATO denies membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and rolls back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. Washington and its allies have refused to make such promises, but said they are ready for the talks.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, said on Friday that in the coming days NATO and Ukraine will sign an agreement on improved cyber cooperation, including Ukrainian access to NATO’s platform for sharing malware information.

Josep Borrell, head of the European Union’s foreign policy, said on Friday that the bloc was ready to mobilize resources to improve Ukraine’s ability to withstand cyber attacks.

“Unfortunately, we expected that to happen,” he said.

Asked who may be behind the attack, Borrell said: “I can not point to anyone because I have no evidence, but one can imagine you.”

Russia has a long history of launching aggressive cyber operations against Ukraine, including a breach of its voting system before the 2014 national elections and an assault on the country’s power grid in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Russia had one of the most damaging cyber attacks on record unleashed with the NotPetya virus targeting Ukrainian businesses and causing more than $ 10 billion in damage worldwide.

In a separate development, Russia said on Friday it had dismantled the prominent hacking group REvil, which carried out a high-profile attack on IT software company Kaseya last year, following a request from Washington.

Cyber ​​security was one of the main issues on the agenda of a summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden last June.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement that it had “suppressed the illegal activities” of members of the group during raids on 25 addresses that incited 14 people.

The searches were carried out following an “appeal by the relevant US authorities”.

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