The White House reached out to Ukraine on Friday to offer its support after several of Kyiv’s government agencies suffered a cyberattack, as tensions simmered between Russia and Ukraine.
A White House National Security Council spokesman told VOA that U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack, which shut down as many as 15 of Ukraine’s government websites. The spokesman said the NSC has offered whatever support it can provide as it assesses the impact of the attack.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry reported Friday that the ministries affected included the treasury, the national emergency service and the state services, where Ukrainians’ electronic passports and vaccination certificates are stored.
When asked who was behind the attack, Ukraine foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said Friday, “It’s too early to draw conclusions, but there is a long record of Russian assaults against Ukraine in the past.”
Message from hackers
The targeted websites contained a message from the hackers in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, saying Ukrainians’ personal data has been leaked into the public domain, though Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection told The Associated Press there was no evidence personal data has been leaked.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told VOA on Friday that the hackers did not reach their goal, which he said was to shut key parts of Ukraine’s government. He said the attack came around 2 a.m. Friday, and many of the sites were brought back up immediately, while others were still down hours later.
While it is difficult to determine who was behind the attack, Danilov told VOA Russia is the only country that can perform a cyberattack on such a scale.
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service that while “we don’t know yet” who was behind the cyberattack, “we do know that’s Russia’s history when they are trying to make mischief.”
“I think it is not surprising and I think it is something we might see more of,” she said.
European Union officials also condemned Friday’s cyberattack and pledged to use EU resources to assist the nation.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance’s cyber experts have been exchanging information with their Ukrainian counterparts on “the current malicious cyber activities.” He said NATO-allied experts in the country are supporting Ukrainian authorities.
Stoltenberg announced NATO and Ukraine will sign an agreement on enhanced cyber cooperation, which would include giving Ukraine access to NATO’s malware information-sharing platform.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brest, France, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell issued the “strongest condemnation” of the attack and said an emergency meeting of the EU political committee would be held to discuss how to react. He pledged to “mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine” increase its cyberattack-resistance capability.
‘Hybrid warfare instruments’
A European official, speaking to VOA and other reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive material, said, “We know that the Russian regime acts using what the specialists call hybrid warfare instruments,” and added, “It’s not something which is completely unexpected.”
John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence analysis at cyber security firm Mandiant, said, “This incident could be the work of government actors or government-sponsored actors, or it could have been done by elements of civil society reacting independently.”
“As tensions grow, we can expect more aggressive cyber activity in Ukraine and potentially elsewhere,” he added.
“These are tried and true Russian tactics. … It has long waged massive cyberattacks against Ukrainian infrastructure, as well as information operations targeting Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian citizens,” said David Salvo, deputy director at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a national security advocacy group.
The cyberattack follows a week of largely fruitless diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions along the Russian-Ukrainian border, where Moscow has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops and equipment, raising fears of an imminent invasion.
Russia insists the troops are there for its own protection but is demanding NATO provide guarantees it will stop its eastward expansion, beginning with not allowing Ukraine to join the alliance, a move Moscow perceives as a threat. NATO has repeatedly rejected that request, saying Russia has no veto over NATO membership for other countries.
VOA Eastern Europe Chief Myroslava Gongadze, VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, VOA’s Ukrainian Service and VOA’s Russian Service contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.