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Ukrainian hackers claim they took down NATO websites ahead of secession vote

Ukrainian hackers claim they took down NATO websites ahead of secession vote

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Ukrainian hackers are claiming responsibility for a cyberattack that brought down a pair of NATO websites today, in an act of protest against Western powers on the eve of a major vote that could see a portion of Ukraine handed over to Russia. The hacktivist group, Cyber Berkut, says that it took down NATO's primary website and the website of its cyber defense center; the group also claimed to have taken down the website of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, though it's unclear if this happened, as the site is currently live.

One in an escalating series of attacks

Cyberattacks from both sides have escalated over the prior weeks, as Crimea — a Ukrainian peninsula bordering Russia that's about the size of New Jersey — approaches a vote tomorrow over secession, which is expected to end in the region joining Russia. Ukraine and Western leaders have called the vote illegal, and while the UN attempted to pass a resolution invalidating it, the resolution was ultimately vetoed, unsurprisingly, by Russia.

Cyber Berkut is reported to have attacked Russian websites in the past weeks as well. Its turn to NATO today speaks to the complex set of interests currently at conflict in Ukraine: though a smaller — and previously politically empowered — section of its population wishes to join Russia, much of the country hopes to increase ties with the European Union. Western powers too are hoping to see this, as it would also mean pulling Ukraine away from Russia.

Cyber Berkut animation accompanying an announcement claiming responsibility for the NATO website attacks.

Ukraine was reportedly also moving to join NATO before its previous leader dropped the plan. But with a new prime minister in place and the country edging toward military conflict, the Indo-Asian News Service reports that Ukraine is now looking to NATO and the US for military assistance. Cyber Berkut, however, says that it wants to see NATO stay out of Ukraine.

This is only one piece of the cyberwar that's been happening alongside Russia's gradual occupation of Crimea over the past weeks. Russia began blocking prominent websites critical of President Vladimir Putin this week, while Reuters reports that the site of the Kremlin and Russia's central bank were briefly brought offline by an attack yesterday — though it's unclear if the attack was related to the situation in Ukraine. The New York Times also reported last week that hackers from both countries had begun defacing websites of opposing news organizations. At the time, those attacks did not appear to be state sponsored, just the actions of hacktivist groups amid rising tensions.