The Swiss cyberspace is quiet - exceptionally quiet. There is indeed a direct link between the unagitated situation in the Swiss cyberspace and the Russo-Ukrainian War: in recent years, most cyber-attacks originated in Russia and Ukraine. Currently, most of their hackers have been drafted into the cyber war.
War in cyberspace has been taking place for a long time. A few days before the first tanks crossed the Ukrainian border, the number of cyber-attacks in the country had increased. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks flooded computers with requests, attempting to paralyse the infrastructure of the Ukrainian administration, parliament and banks, looking to unsettle Ukrainians, disrupt communications and suppress transactions. Additionally, the "Hermetic Wiper" malware, designed to delete data and render the infected machines inoperable, was discovered circulating in Ukrainian organisations.
Nevertheless, resistance is growing. Ukraine's requests for help began to appear on hacker forums, asking for volunteers to help protect critical infrastructure and conduct cyber spying missions against Russia. Anonymous has already carried out the first attacks. Evidently, Russia was expecting this and they have now implemented measures rehearsed years ago: their most important infrastructures have been disconnected from the internet, only allowing local enquiries to go through.
"Today's wars are hybrid," says Nicolas Mayencourt, CEO of Dreamlab Technologies and Programme Manager of the Swiss Cyber Security Days. Even before the physical attacks took place, attempts were being made to destabilise Ukraine: disinformation campaigns, censorship, disruptive manoeuvres in cyberspace, and occasionally, far more elaborate targeted attacks on their critical infrastructures.
“Russia is a cyber superpower - as are the USA and China” continues Mayencourt. "All of these countries make extensive use of their capabilities –in times of peace as well as war."
If the current war escalates, Russia can rely on an army of very capable, field-tested specialists. While “cyber warriors” from the USA practice with trial exercises, those from Russia are often active in the commercial espionage and blackmail business. Cyber extortion in Russia is a flourishing business as it's a quick and effective way to make a lot of money in a short amount of time. Additionally, there is hardly any danger of being held accountable for such attacks in the country. Only attacks targeting domestic infrastructure are prosecuted - everything else is tolerated.
How dangerous is it for a country like Switzerland to take on a cyber superpower like Russia?
“If you’re exposed, you have to expect attacks," continues Nicolas Mayencourt. “For example, when it became known that the Swiss laboratory, Spiez, was investigating the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripalz, attacks began on their research facility.”
At the moment, the situation In Switzerland is calm. Nevertheless, after the decision on February 28 to adopt the sanctions imposed by the EU, it is conceivable that Russia could react with cyber-attacks. Even though direct attacks on the Swiss IT infrastructure aren’t currently expected, Switzerland needs to expect potential collateral damage as it is possible that the country suffers the indirect consequences of the cyber war.
The Swiss government agrees: "The National Cybersecurity Centre estimates that mainly untargeted attacks are possible, which might occur as a side effect of cyber operations," says Florian Schütz, Federal Cybersecurity Delegate. "Companies that are dependent on suppliers or nearshoring partners should exercise special caution”.
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