The Ukraine cyber crisis and it's real security impact in virtual space

Nicolas Mayencourt discusses with Roger Schawinski, Swiss journalist at Zurich-based Radio 1, the current Ukraine cybercrisis and the situation well beyond the physical conflict zone.


1. It has been discussed that Russians and Ukrainians could shut down their connection to the global Internet? Has this happened or is it about to happen?

Despite being a very powerful tool, cyber alone cannot win a war. The cyberspace permeates all physical dimensions and controls the digital world. Through cyber-attacks they can destroy essential national infrastructure and key national industries. The cyberwar between Russia and Ukraine isn’t new. Russians see Ukraine as an experimental ground for a cyberwar. We are aware of Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine since 2005. Some of them are quite popular, like the Petya/Not-petya in 2015 as well as the 2017 cyberattack where Russia state hackers shut off Ukraine's power grid. 


2. Is this also happening during the current (cyber)war?

This is very difficult to answer as there’s a lot of activity taking place in both directions. We see the usage of ransomware, which is not used to encrypt but to delete data. There are several attacks happening back and forth, making it very difficult to identify exactly what is happening where.


3. We’ve heard that Russia wants to completely disconnect from the global Internet. If this were to happen, can they still be hacked?

If Russia completely disconnects from the global Internet, then it will be much more difficult to hack them. China implemented this model years ago, only allowing connections via China’s “Great Firewall”, which allows one entry/exit port to the Internet. Their Internet has its own rules. I believe Russia might adopt that model. For attackers this makes life much more difficult, as they have to bypass one central entry point.


4. Do you think this disconnection will happen soon?

There are a lot of rumours and documents circulating online showcasing the possibility that Russia might shut down their Internet in the comings days. The pressure on Russia is very high - Ukraine's 'IT Army', Anonymous - that's around 300,000 volunteers - working against them.


5. In the last years we had the impression that hackers are mostly from Russia and Ukraine; how are they behaving now?

Russia and Ukraine both have a lot of talent and are leading in international cybercrime, especially in encrypting data and ransomware. There is a group called Conti, a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group originally made up of Russian and Ukrainian affiliates. However, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Conti has decided to support the Russian government. Naturally, this led to a split between affiliates who used to rob the world together but now are fighting each other.

Listen to the full interview "Talkradio zu Ukraine - 09.03.2022" (in German) here : https://www.radio1.ch/de/podcast/corona--9

The Ukraine cyber crisis and it's real security impact in virtual space

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