NEW CYBERSECURITY CONCERNS
Besides the travesty of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the accompanying horrors of war, the conflict in Eastern Europe has impacted everybody on the planet. There have been massive economic disruptions including soaring food and fuel prices and inflation has spiked here in the UK, in Europe, and in the United States. The war has also prompted new cybersecurity concerns as the world has witnessed a large number of cyberattacks and threats since 24 February. What exactly are these cybersecurity concerns and how should we respond?
BEFORE IT STARTED
Cybersecurity concerns were evoked even before the war started. On 23 February, a day before the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian government, military, and bank websites were hit by a string of Distributed-Denial-of Service (DDoS) attacks. That same day, UK and US cyber intelligence agencies warned that the Russian hacker group, Sandworm, had created a new variety of malware monikered Cyclops Blink. Some good news, however, was that in April the FBI managed to remove Cyclops Blink’s malware from victims’ systems ending Sandworm’s control of the botnet.
QUIET AT FIRST
After the invasion, the West had immediate cybersecurity concerns but were these truly justified? Russia is well-known for its hacking prowess, with the 2017 NotPetya malware crippling Ukrainian power plants, banks, metro systems, and the world’s second-largest container shipping company, Maersk. NotPetya is considered to be one of the worst cyberattacks ever seen, costing the global economy $10 billion, with incidents reported in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and the US. With that in mind, everybody was anticipating the Russians to launch a cyberwar against Ukraine and its allies. But for months all seemed quiet on the Western Front – until Microsoft’s recent discoveries were revealed.
MICROSOFT’S CYBERSECURITY CONCERNS
In a report published on 22 June, Microsoft researchers disclosed that Russian bad actors have broken into the IT networks of 128 organisations in 42 countries outside Ukraine. While the United States has been Russia’s primary target, hackers have also prioritised Poland, a funnel for much of the military and humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. Cybercriminal activities have also been aimed at the Baltics, while computer networks in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Turkey – all members of NATO – have been infiltrated. Microsoft reports that approximately 29% of all intrusions have been successful but this figure possibly underestimates Russia’s success.
RUSSIA’S CYBER PROPAGANDA
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Russians were dead set on using sophisticated technology to spread false COVID narratives in multiple Western countries, including efforts to discourage vaccine adoption through English-language web reports. Now, as the war in Ukraine continues, Russia is using cyber propaganda for four distinct purposes:
- to garner homeland support for the war
- to undermine the confidence of the Ukrainians
- to undermine American and European unity
- to get the support of nonaligned countries that are United Nations members
HOW TO RESPOND
Cyber threat is a hidden enemy, that goes without saying. While ranging from social media propaganda to full-blown cyberattacks, its levels of severity may differ but we need to act, no matter what form the crime manifests itself. Microsoft believes that the West needs a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to strengthen defenses against the full range of cyber destructive, espionage, and influence operations. The tech giant suggests that we pool our cyber knowledge and develop collective capabilities to detect, defend against, disrupt and deter all foreign cyberthreats, not only those from Russia. Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft says:
“We’re concerned that many current Russian cyber influence operations currently go for months without proper detection, analysis, or public reporting. This increasingly impacts a wide range of important institutions in both the public and private sectors. This should add urgency to the importance of strengthening Western defenses against these types of foreign cyber influence attacks.”
HELP WITH YOUR CYBERSECURITY CONCERNS
It would be great if all cybersecurity concerns vanished into thin air. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. If you are worried about cyber threats and your level of cybersecurity, then fear not. I have been in the business of professional IT management for 20+ years, specialising in risk mitigation. Cybersecurity flows through my veins. Give me a call and let’s get your cybersecurity on track so that you’ve got peace of mind and can focus on business as usual.