Cyber ​​Attack On Ukraine: Digital Pinpricks

Ukrainian banks' websites were unavailable, but that's almost minor stuff. Russia has already shown what digital attacks it is capable of.

The website of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense was temporarily unavailable on Tuesday. There were also technical problems at two large state-owned banks: According to Ukrainian media reports, some people either could not log into their online banking portal or were unable to make transactions there. According to reports, card payments no longer worked in some places.

The reason for the failures was technical overload that someone had deliberately created. The Ukrainian government spoke of a "strong DDoS attack" and the country's armed forces were also affected. A DDoS attack (the acronym stands for " Distributed Denial of Service ") is a fairly simple process: a server is bombarded with more requests than it can handle, causing the systems to fail. 

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Referring to the perpetrators of this attack, the Ukrainian government only spoke of "the aggressor" who was also capable of "dirty tricks". The interpretation that this means Russia is obvious. As a precaution, Russia rejected the allegations. However, it is not surprising that Ukraine sees Russia as the mastermind behind it, according to the Russian Presidential Office.

It is unclear whether the attack was actually controlled by Russia . If only because it is always difficult to assign digital attacks to a specific attacker, but also because of the type of attack: DDoS is considered a very low-threshold attack in the IT security community, some see it more as a nuisance. The technology required for such an overload can be rented for a few hundred dollars, "anyone could have done it," wrote IT security expert Manuel Atug on Twitter. 

Cyber ​​attacks against Ukraine have been going on for years

So, if anything, yesterday's incidents would be just a small piece of the puzzle in Russia's cyber attack plan against Ukraine. However, observers do not doubt that such a thing exists: "For years, Russia has been waging a conflict against Ukraine in the digital space," says Matthias Schulze, who researches cyber and defense issues for the Science and Politics Foundation. He does not speak of war in this context, because neither people die nor large-scale destruction is the result. 

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In fact, Russia has repeatedly shown in the past that it is able and willing to engage in cyber attacks against Ukraine.

In 2015, more than 200,000 people in Ukraine were without power for several hours after a digital attack on energy companies. This attack, which is highly likely to be the work of the Russian group Sandworm, is considered the first successful cyber attack on a power grid anywhere in the world.

In December 2016 there was another attack on the energy supply. The power outage was brief, but the attack reportedly failed in its intended purpose - to cause severe and permanent damage to the power grid. 

Military targets in Ukraine have also been attacked over the Internet in the past. The Fancy Bear group, which is associated with the Russian military, gained access to a smartphone app that Ukrainian soldiers are said to have used to process target data for artillery pieces. Thus, the attackers could spy on the positions of the guns. This was reported by the IT security company Crowdstrike in 2016.

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Other attacks are lower-threshold: In January of this year, only one warning could be read on several pages of Ukrainian government agencies: "Be afraid and expect the worst. "In this case, too, the Ukrainian government locates the origin of the attack in Russia. This so-called defacement, i.e. the hijacking of a website so that it shows the attacker's message, is considered a relatively simple cyber attack - similar to the recent incidents. And yet the signal effect can be large. It turns out that government agencies are also vulnerable.

Attacks are also often accompanied by disinformation. For example, the websites hijacked in January also stated that personal data of Ukrainian citizens had been published online. While that turned out to be untrue, it is initially confusing.

The principle behind it: The less clear it is what is actually happening, the greater the uncertainty and the denser the fog of war, as the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once called it. "Lately it seems to be less about actually eliminating targets in the long term and more about disruption and wear and tear," says security researcher Schulze. Attacks on banks would also fit in with this.

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