Ukraine denounces massive cyber-attack on government websites

"Ukrainian, be afraid and prepare for the worst," the authors of the cyber-attack warn in a message with the Ukrainian national flag crossed out

PHOTO/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via REUTERS  -   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

A cyber-attack paralysed several Ukrainian government websites on Friday, Ukrainian authorities said. "As a result of a massive cyberattack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies are temporarily down," ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told AFP news agency. The same was true of the Ministry of Education and Science, which announced on Facebook that its website had suffered a "global cyber attack" in the early hours of the morning. The Ministry of Emergency and the presidential cabinet also reported problems with their websites.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured that no personal data had been leaked and that specialists were already working to restore the system to working order. Also, the cyber police have opened an investigation. 

In addition to disabling government websites, the perpetrators of the attack left a message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish. "Ukrainians! All your personal data has been deleted and is impossible to restore. All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst," the hackers warn.

PHOTO/Imagen del sitio web del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
PHOTO/Image from the Foreign Ministry website - Ukrainian government websites have been hit by a major cyber attack this morning.

At the top of the message is the Ukrainian flag, the national coat of arms and a crossed-out map of the country. The message alludes to the "historical land" of Volyn, Polesia and Galicia. It also mentions the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the military wing of Ukrainian nationalists that fought against the Soviet Union during World War II. The UPA, aiming to harm the Red Army, collaborated and made agreements with the Nazis. "This is about their past, present and future," the hackers say.

"We can imagine who is behind it"

Regarding the perpetrator of the cyberattack, the government spokesman said it was "too early to draw conclusions". However, he noted the "long history of Russian attacks against Ukraine" since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and the Donbas war began. In the summer, Kiev accused Russia of hacking into the Armed Forces' computer network. Earlier, in 2015 alleged Russian hackers hacked into the country's electricity grid, causing thousands of Ukrainians to lose power. 

PHOTO/AFP  -   El presidente ruso, Vladímir Putin
PHOTO/AFP - Russian President Vladimir Putin

In 2017, the 'NotPetya' computer virus attacked several Ukrainian institutions, including the National Bank. On the other hand, in 2020, an attack paralysed the Treasury, Trade and National Security departments. These have been some of the most relevant cyberattacks that Ukraine has suffered in recent years and for which it has blamed Moscow. Other countries such as the US and the UK have also pointed the finger at the Kremlin

On the other hand, Ukraine's allies have been quick to speak out. The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, condemned the attack and backed Kiev. "We will mobilise all our resources to help Ukraine deal with this. Unfortunately, we knew it could happen," he said in the French city of Brest, where EU foreign ministers are meeting to take joint action on the crisis in Ukraine. On the authorship of the attack, Borrell admitted that, in the absence of evidence, he could not blame anyone. "We can imagine who is behind it," he said.

Ann Linde, Sweden's Foreign Minister, called for a "tough, strong and robust" response to the Russian attacks on Ukraine. "We have to be very firm in our messages to Russia," she added.

REUTERS/JOHN THYS  -   El alto representante de la Unión Europea para Asuntos Exteriores y Política de Seguridad, Josep Borrell, durante una rueda de prensa
REUTERS/JOHN THYS - European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell during a press conference in the Russian Federation.
Ukraine targeted by cyber attacks

In this context of "cyberwar", David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes, journalists for The New York Times, reported that Washington and London sent experts to Ukraine in December to prepare the country for such attacks. The US newspaper also noted that "Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine never stopped"; indeed, it indicates that they intensified in December, although public attention focused on the build-up of troops.

According to official figures collected by The Guardian, there were some 288,000 cyberattacks in the first 10 months of 2021, while 397,000 were reported in 2020. In this regard, the Ukrainian national news agency, Ukrinform, states that Ukraine "is among the countries that suffer the most from Russian cyberattacks", although the United States and the United Kingdom have also been the target of such attacks.

AFP/OLIVIER HOSLET - US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (2nd left), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (3rd left), Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko (3rd right) and Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin (2nd right) attend the NATO-Russia Council.
Russia threatens to deploy troops in Cuba and Venezuela, Poland warns of high 'risk of war' in Europe

This cyber-attack comes shortly after the summit between the NATO Council and Russia in Brussels. This meeting was organised with the aim of reaching some kind of agreement that could improve the critical situation in Ukraine. However, the talks have once again highlighted the wide differences between the two sides as tensions continue to rise in Eastern Europe.

Moscow says the talks have failed, while reiterating that it has no intention of invading Ukraine and calling on NATO to withdraw its troops from countries bordering Russia. If NATO does not respond to its security demands, Russia does not rule out sending troops to Cuba and Venezuela, as Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, reported on national television. The US continues to urge Russia to withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border. In this regard, Washington continues to warn of possible Russian aggression in Ukraine. 

AFP/ALEX HALADA - Zbigniew Rau, Polish Foreign Minister and Chairman-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), gives a press conference at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, 13 January 2022.

With an eye on Ukraine, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) met in Vienna to discuss the current situation on the continent.  Zbigniew Rau, Poland's Foreign Minister, revealed that the current "risk of war" is the highest in 30 years. "For several weeks, we have been facing the prospect of a major military escalation in Eastern Europe," he added.