Russia has shown itself to be an aggressive cyber actor, launching cyberattacks against democratic states, such as the United States, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. On January 14, 2022, Ukraine accused Russian “cyber troops” of being behind the massive cyberattack against several of its government agencies, Voice of America reported.
The attack hit various Ukrainian ministries, including the Security and Defense Council and the Cabinet of Ministers, temporarily disabling them for several hours leaving only threatening messages. “Be afraid and expect the worst,” Voice of America reported.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) said in a statement that more than 70 state websites faced attacks, with 10 of them experiencing interference. “There are certain signs indicating involvement of hacker groups associated with Russian special services in the incident,” the agency said.
The malware program WhisperGate recently launched against Ukraine fits with Russian tactics, said the U.S. magazine MIT Technology Review on January 21. “These hacking offensives could spill out globally,” the magazine reported.
The attack was a reminder of the many tools that Russian President Vladimir Putin uses to weaken Ukraine. Russia supplements its military efforts with tactics such as cyberattacks, disinformation, and propaganda to exacerbate political tensions and undermine Ukrainians’ faith in their government and in democracy itself, the U.S. magazine Politico reported on January 16.
The SSU said to have thwarted more than 2,000 cyberattacks against government electronic resources and critical strategic infrastructure in 2021. Several of the attackers were members of the Armageddon hacker group, operated under the Russian Federal Security Service.
According to MIT Technology Review, Russia has a long history of aggressive cyber operations against Ukraine, some of them initially directed at Ukrainian private companies that spilled over and destroyed systems worldwide, such as the 2017 NotPetya cyberattack. In 2015 and 2016, Russian hackers attacked Ukraine’s power grid, MIT Technology Review also reported.
Russian hackers are also responsible for the “interference in U.S. and French elections, and the Olympics opening ceremony hack in the wake of a Russian doping controversy that left the country excluded from the games,” the magazine reported.
In June 2021, the United States and the United Kingdom warned that Russian military intelligence has been waging a “cyber brute force” campaign against private organizations and government entities since 2019, Voice of America said.
Other nations, such as Colombia, have also faced significant cyberattacks.
In January 2021, the Colombian government condemned cyberattacks against several of its websites, allegedly conducted from Russia “to obtain information on infrastructure, the energy sector, and the oil sector,” the Colombian newspaper El Nacional reported. In a statement, Moscow rejected Colombia’s accusations.
Destabilizing the global system
The 2021 Microsoft Digital Defense Report said that “58 percent of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia […]. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-states actors were the United States, Ukraine, and the U.K.”
Russia denies using cyber weapons offensively, but Putin has said that “patriotic hackers” may take it upon themselves to defend the country’s interests online, Bloomberg reported.