President Joe Biden has been briefed on a cyberattack targeting Ukraine and the United States and its allies have offered their support as the investigation into the nature and impact of the attacks, a White House National Security Council spokesman said. “We will provide Ukraine with all the support it needs to recover.”
The massive cyberattack affected the websites of multiple government agencies. Also, Ukrainian military intelligence said Friday that separatist forces have launched live-fire drills that are overseen by Russian military officials.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said it was too early to know who might have been behind the attack, “but there is a long history of Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine in the past.” Moscow had previously denied its involvement in the cyberattacks against Ukraine, according to the AP agency.
The websites of the country’s Cabinet, seven ministries, the Treasury, the National Emergency Service and the website of state services, where e-passports and vaccination certificates of Ukrainians are stored, were temporarily unavailable on Friday as a result of the hack. The websites contained a message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, saying that the personal data of Ukrainians had been leaked into the public domain. “Be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future,” the message read in part.
Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communication and Information Protection said no personal data had been leaked. The country’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said later on Friday that “a large part” of the affected websites have been restored. Victor Zhora, vice president of the State Special Communication Service, said no critical infrastructure was affected. Zhora told a news conference on Friday that some 70 government agency websites, both national and regional, have been affected by the attack.
The hack consisted of a simple defacement of government websites, said Oleh Derevianko, a leading private-sector expert and founder of cybersecurity company ISSP. The hackers broke into a content management system that everyone uses. “They couldn’t get to the actual websites,” Derevianko said.
Russia builds up troops on the border
Derevyanko said that the hacker could have accessed the hacked content management system long ago, so the issue to consider is the timing of the disfigurement and the provocative message. “It could be a regular information operation undermining the government’s capacity and creating and increasing uncertainty,” Derevianko added. It could also be “part of a planned hybrid attack or a more sophisticated, long-term cyber operation that is ongoing but not yet complete.”
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of deploying its troops in Donbas to back separatists, charges the Kremlin has denied. Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula after the removal of the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader and, in 2014, also backed the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland, called Donbas.
Meanwhile, Russia on Friday reaffirmed its demand that NATO not expand eastward, despite the military alliance’s rejection amid a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that Moscow will not wait indefinitely for a response from the West, saying he expects the United States and NATO to give a written response next week.
Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet nation, or station its forces and weapons there, as essential to advancing diplomatic efforts to defuse rising tensions over Ukraine. He argued that NATO deployments and drills near Russia’s borders pose a security challenge that must be addressed immediately. “Our patience has run out” Lavrov said at a news conference. “The West has been carried away by arrogance and has exacerbated tensions by violating its obligations and common sense.”