“We call on Russia […] to stop its disinformation campaign and cyberattacks,” said European Union Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) Olof Skoog, during a speech at the U.N. Extraordinary Assembly on February 28, 2022.
As Russian tanks breached the Ukrainian border in the early hours of February 24, hundreds of computers from the Ukrainian Parliament, government agencies, and banks were hit by data-wiping software. “Russia didn’t just decide to invade Ukraine this week,” Rick Holland, chief information security officer at the U.S. cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows, told the British newspaper The Guardian. “Military planners have prepared for this campaign years in advance. Disinformation, false flags, DDoS [distributed denial-of-service] attacks, and destructive wiper malware are a part of Russian military doctrine; the battle plans have been drawn up and are now being executed,” Holland said.
In 2022 alone, there were already four mass hits on Ukrainian websites and computers. In January, websites of institutions in that country suffered a DDoS attack, in which a site is taken offline by flooding it with large amounts of requests until it crashes. At the time, hackers replaced information from the websites with the message “prepare for the worst.”
In a February 24 report, the National Cyber Security Centre in the United Kingdom and U.S. agencies warned that a hacker group known as Sandworm, backed by the Russian state, had developed a new type of malware capable of damaging certain computer protection systems. “In light of the crisis in Ukraine, we are very concerned about this actor, who has surpassed all others we track in terms of the aggressive cyberattacks and information operations they have conducted,” John Hultquist, vice president at Mandiant Threat Intelligence, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, also told The Guardian.
“If Russia pursues cyberattacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond,” U.S. President Joe Biden said hours after Russian troops invaded Ukraine and Russian hackers used DDoS attacks to disable Ukrainian government and financial websites.
In Brazil, the website of the Ukrainian Embassy was taken down and institutional emails interrupted for more than 48 hours. Anatoly Tkachm, Ukraine’s chargé d’Affaires in Brazil, said the problem was the result of a Russian attack.
Moscow’s meddling in Latin America has also reached Colombia, which is preparing for presidential elections and has been the target of disinformation campaigns. In early February, Colombian President Iván Duque met with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland to develop strategies to counter Russian influence in the elections and ensure that they are free and fair.