The War in Ukraine has Fundamentally Changed Online Safety
It has been almost a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, there has been massive destruction on the ground and a major shift in battle lines, with battles increasingly being fought in cyberspace coming into sharp focus. Vladimir Putin’s Russia used virtual, and then real-world attacks in a coordinated way. The world has reacted, with citizen cyber warriors fighting back and governments spending more on cyber defenses.
How has the war in Ukraine changed the world of online security? Trends have been amplified, and actors in online battles are very different from those fighting in the trenches.
Since the beginning of the war, there has been new malware developed and deployed. One of the first new pieces of technology was HermeticWiper malware. This tool stops data being stored in systems and can wipe out whole swathes of data.
Other tools like AcidRain and IsaacWiper have been used by Russia to target Ukraine and its allies.
Wiper malware now poses a wider threat to the world. Once these tools are out there, anyone with the know-how can start to use them. This means there are now more threat vectors that cybersecurity professionals need to be aware of.
It isn’t just wiper malware that you need to be worried about. Malware that can steal data has proliferated, including CredoMap, Cobalt Strike, and Dark Crystal RAT.
While there is nothing groundbreaking within these technologies, they do show a new strategy certain actors are waging in cyberspace.
These technologies appear to have been specifically developed for cyberwarfare purposes, such as Industroyer2, which specifically targets energy networks. A new frontier in war and online safety has been opened and it is going to be an ongoing theatre of battle.
Sights are set on new targets
Russia has made a very conscience decision to be especially brutal when targeting Ukrainian civilians and critical infrastructure. Russia has also not shied away from utilizing cyberattacks in targeting Ukraine. 24% of all cybersecurity attacks in 2022 have been launched against the government and civilian targets, according to ENISA.
Since the war began, there has been a litany of attacks traced back to Russia. The scale and persistence of the attacks suggest top-level coordination.
Some key cyber incidents early in Russia’s campaign that showed the extent of Russia’s cyber campaign against Ukraine:
An attack on the websites of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Infrastructure, and Education caused widespread disruption days before the invasion. Wiper attacks also targeted a Ukrainian bank.
An energy facility was the target of an attack in April, although it was beaten back by the private sector. The goal was to close down electrical substations across the country.
Telegram – the messaging app popular in Russia and Ukraine – was the target of an attack in April. Hackers launched a phishing attack to try and gain access to Ukrainian government officials’ accounts.
The truth is that these cyberattacks are part and parcel of what happens in cyberspace every day, but there is a wider concern. Russia hasn’t been shy about targeting Ukraine’s government, but it also shows a willingness to go after civilian targets.
Along with these attacks targeting Ukraine, there have also been attacks against the United States, Poland, and the UK. Russia specifically targeted these countries for their continued support of Ukraine. As a result, each country, and many others, have had to beef up its own cyber defenses.
Indeed, the United States has increased its spending on cybersecurity by roughly 10%. It’s a clear indication that wars are increasingly going to be fought in cyberspace.
The war moves beyond governments
Wars are typically fought by trained soldiers, commanded by officers in a coordinated way. While this is still more or less true, in the 21st century, anyone can wage cyberattacks against Russia, and they have had some success.
The hacker collective Anonymous is one of the many groups that have declared war on Russia. The group is largely leaderless without a base of operations, yet it has inflicted serious damage on Russia.
With the aim to weaken and embarrass Russia, hackers have:
In March, the Emergency Situations Ministry website was hacked and defaced with messages encouraging defections. The same attack saw the Russian news agency TASS attacked with calls for street protests.
RuTube, the Russian version of YouTube, according to the company, was forced offline.
Anonymous attacked the Russian Stock Exchange and Sberbank in the earliest days of the war. Those responsible were said to be amateur hackers backed by the Ukrainian government.
The tactics of Anonymous and others tend to focus on leaking sensitive Russian government data, disrupting access to Russian websites, and hijacking news and media websites.
Because of their actions supporting Ukraine, these hackers are largely viewed favorably, but since they aren’t loyal to any one country, there is no saying what the future of their actions might be or who they may be against.
Protecting yourself in the changing cybersecurity landscape
This can sound scary, and it can be. Businesses around the globe are ramping up online security spending and preparing for more cyberattacks.
You may not think that you could be a target of anything associated with the war in Ukraine, but you are vulnerable regardless of how good you think the anti-virus software on your computer is. Whether it’s hackers trying to steal your personal data to commit fraud or infecting your computer with malware – you could be targeted.
To protect yourself against hacks, you can:
Download a VPN to protect yourself. You can encrypt the information you share online when on public WiFi and prevent your online activity from being tracked.
Run updates on all of your devices. Tech companies are vigilant to potential vulnerabilities in their software and will regularly release updates, you just need to download them often.
Be skeptical about what you see online. Check the true sender of emails asking you to click any links and check the security certificate of websites you browse.
The war in Ukraine has fundamentally changed online safety.
Because of the proliferation of hackers and nefarious actors, your online browsing is less secure. You can still keep yourself secure by taking the simple yet effective steps that have been outlined and not being the victim of hackers.