More Aggressive Cyber Activity Could Occur If Relations Between Ukraine And Russia Continue To Heat Up
The Ukrainian army faces not only the threat of direct attacks, but also cyber attacks. (photo credit: pixabay)

JAKARTA – Hackers who disrupted and disrupted access to various Ukrainian government-owned websites on Friday, January 14 could set the stage for a more serious cyberattack that will disrupt the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.

"As tensions escalate, we can expect more aggressive cyber activity in Ukraine and potentially elsewhere," said John Hultquist, an intelligence analyst at US cybersecurity firm Mandiant. "This may include destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure."

"Organizations need to start preparing for this eventuality," Hultquist added.

Intrusions by hackers into hospitals, electric utility companies, and financial systems have until recently been rare. But organized cybercriminals, many of whom live in Russia, have targeted institutions aggressively in the past two years with ransomware, data freezes and computerized equipment needed to treat patients in hospitals.

In some cases, such extortion attacks have led to patient deaths, according to litigation, media reports and medical professionals.

Last Friday's attacks on Ukrainian websites included warnings to "fear and hope for the worst", at a time when Russia had already amassed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine, and raised fears in the West that it was considering an invasion of the country. But Moscow denies wanting to invade Ukraine.

Russia has repeatedly denied hacking allegations leveled by Ukraine and other countries over the years. While the suspect in this latest web vandalism, Russia has not been directly accused by Ukraine.

In 2014 Russian troops went to the Crimean Black Sea peninsula and annexed it from Ukraine. If Russia strikes again, more cyberattacks will follow, predicts former CrowdStrike cybersecurity executive Dmitri Alperovitch.

:They are likely to be annoying (cyber), but not fatal. This will be a sideshow. The main show will be on the pitch," said Alperovitch.

Ukraine has borne the brunt of some of the biggest infrastructure hacks to date.

In December 2015, the first cyberattack of its kind killed 225,000 people in western Ukraine, while hackers at the time also sabotaged power distribution equipment, complicating efforts to restore power.

The average temperature during winter in Ukraine is below freezing and heat loss is potentially lethal to them. The outages in the 2015 attacks reportedly lasted six hours in several cities.

In the last two months of 2016, hackers targeted Ukrainian state agencies about 6,500 times, officials said. The cyber attack shows Russian security services are waging a cyber war against Ukraine, the government says.

The attack on the State Treasury also halted the system for several days, meaning civil servants and retirees were unable to receive their salaries or payments on time.

The attack on Ukraine's power grid is considered by experts to be the first instance of hackers shutting down a critical energy system that supplies heat and light to millions of homes.

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