A massive hacker attack hit the websites of several government departments in Ukraine this morning, the day after the latest round of talks between Moscow and the West aimed at preventing an armed conflict in the heart of Europe. The negotiation marathon, which began Monday in Geneva, has not led to any turning point on the Ukrainian crisis and tensions appear higher than before, even if the survival of some form of dialogue was not a foregone conclusion. The situation, however, remains extremely uncertain, as demonstrated by the vast hacker attack against Kiev, the new military maneuvers announced by the Russians and the alarm raised by Washington on the possibility that Moscow will create a pretext for the invasion.
The cyber attack temporarily disabled the sites of several ministries, including those of Foreign Affairs and the Crisis Unit. It has paralyzed much of the government’s public digital infrastructure, including the most used site for managing online government services, Diia, which also plays a role in the pandemic response and vaccination campaign.
Before the Ukrainian diplomacy website was made inaccessible, the attackers posted a message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish on the ministry website calling on Ukrainian citizens to prepare for the worst by claiming that all personal data had been uploaded to the web. . “Ukrainians! All your personal data has been erased and is impossible to restore. All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst ”. The authorities, however, denied any data theft, and the Ukrainian intelligence services stated that the content of the sites was not changed and no personal data leaks occurred.
Kiev officials waited a few hours before pointing to Moscow as the direct perpetrator of the attack, but they quickly recalled the long history of Russian online assaults on the country. In the afternoon, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policies dissolved all reservations: according to the “initial data” collected by the investigators, the operation originated in Russia.
“The impact of today’s attacks will depend on how much the West wants to take a principled position against Russia, or favor the path of dialogue,” Alessandro Marrone, head of the IAI Defense Program, comments to HuffPost. “The tone of the reaction will be important. It will be necessary to see if in the next few hours and days the United States, NATO and the European Union will explicitly accuse Russia of paternity of the attacks, thus assuming the political responsibility of following up on the information that can be found in cyberspace. We keep in mind that it is very difficult to establish the attribution: even sophisticated cyber defense tools give a reasonable certainty, but it is rarely 100%. This margin of uncertainty makes the decision of a political condemnation important ”. And again: “We must keep in mind that in 2020 and 2021 Ukraine received approximately 320,000 and 288,000 attacks respectively. The cybernetic war is ongoing seven days a week, 24 hours a day. In this sense, today’s attacks, certainly significant, must be placed in a series of operations that have been going on for some time ”.
For now, the attack has been condemned more or less broadly by Kiev’s western partners, with the NATO secretary general announcing a strengthening of cooperation on cybersecurity. “I strongly condemn the cyber attacks on the Ukrainian government,” said Jens Stoltenberg. “NATO cyber experts in Brussels exchanged information with their Ukrainian counterparts on current malicious cyber activities. Allied experts are also supporting Ukrainian authorities on the ground. In the coming days, NATO and Ukraine will sign an agreement on increased cyber cooperation, including Ukrainian access to NATO’s malware information sharing platform. The strong political and practical support of NATO for Ukraine will continue ”, promised the secretary general, in a passage that will certainly not please Moscow.
The European Union has also expressed its readiness to mobilize all its resources to provide technical assistance to Ukraine and help it improve its ability to resist cyber attacks. “We will mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine cope with these attacks,” said EU High Representative Josep Borrell. “Unfortunately, we expected it to happen.” Asked who might be behind the attack, Borrell said: “I can’t point anyone out because I have no evidence, but you can imagine …”.
At the end of a week of negotiations dominated by the two major protagonists – the United States and Russia – the European Union is trying to find a voice again. The moment is critical and it will be a test for Europe to demonstrate that it can act as a “political actor”, the high representative said at a press conference following the informal Foreign Affairs Council in Brest, France. “The discussion on the European security architecture was at the heart of this meeting […]. The EU is ready to respond directly to any aggression, but our preference and our natural path is that of dialogue and negotiation, ”he added. “We agree that circumstances call for the strongest unity ever and in our work we have identified key elements as the basis for a strong and united EU position,” he continued. Among these elements, Borrell mentioned the rejection “of the Russian attempt to build a sphere of influence in Europe”; the reaffirmation by ministers “of the principles of European security defined by the Helsinki Act and the Charter of Paris”; The EU’s “solidarity” with “Ukraine and its Eastern partners”; the clear request to Russia for de-escalation; the principle that “any aggression against Ukraine will have massive costs and consequences, including restrictive measures”; coordination “with the US and NATO”; cooperation and also work on sanctions.
In recent days, Borrell has clearly linked the question of Ukraine to the Nord Stream 2 energy project, an infrastructure now completed but for which the final granting of authorizations by the German administrative authorities is expected. The functioning of Nord Stream 2 will depend “on the development of events in Ukraine and on the attitude of Russia”, warned Borrell. “We cannot think that with one hand we impose sanctions if necessary and with the other we open the infrastructure”, explained the High Representative.
There is “only” the maxi hacker attack to increase tensions between East and West. Also today, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was awaiting a written, point-by-point response to two security treaty proposals it submitted to the West last month. He said he expected to see such a response next week or so. Russia has also threatened “military-technical measures” that will undermine the security of the West if its demands are not heeded. The Moscow Ministry of Defense – which in recent months has mobilized around 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and sent military material – announced that additional equipment would be transferred from the east of the country as part of what it called an “exercise. “.
The road to compromise is still possible, but it is getting narrower and narrower. According to CNN, the US has information that Russia has pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine to create a pretext for an invasion. The operatives, according to US intelligence sources, are trained in urban warfare and in the use of explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against the same forces supported by Russia. The information echoes a statement by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry that Russian intelligence is preparing provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to frame Kiev.
Then comes the Russian Minister Lavrov to put the load: “The West has been led by arrogance and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.” It takes courage to see the glass half full.