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‘Massive cyber attack’ hits Ukraine government websites as tensions with Russia escalate

‘Massive cyber attack’ hits Ukraine government websites as tensions with Russia escalate

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“We can imagine who is behind it,” says EU head of foreign affairs

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Hackers attacked a number of Ukrainian government websites on Friday, temporarily disabling sites and leaving messages warning readers to “be afraid and expect the worse.”

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry described the incident as a “massive cyber attack,” according to reports from Bloomberg and Sky News, but noted that no content on the sites had been altered and no personal data had been leaked.

Websites for the government’s cabinet, security and defense councils, and ministry for education were among those affected. “Our specialists are already working on restoring the work of IT systems, and the cyber police opened an investigation,” said the spokesperson.

Russian troops have been gathering on Ukraine’s border for weeks

Despite their apparently superficial nature, the attacks are significant given escalating tensions in the region. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops are currently gathered on the borders of Ukraine, and Western intelligence agencies warn that a full-blown invasion could be imminent. Russian troops and Russian-backed insurgents have occupied areas of the country since 2014, including the Crimea peninsula and parts of the Donbas region.

Although there is no clear culprit for today’s cyberattacks, officials are already suggesting that Russia may be responsible. “It’s too early to draw conclusions, but there is a long record of Russian assaults against Ukraine,” a Ukrainian government spokesperson told Sky News. The EU’s head of foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, told reporters this morning that he “has no evidence who was responsible” but “we can imagine who is behind it.”

Russia has previously deployed cyberattacks as a prelude to ground warfare, as during its 2008 invasion of Georgia. Weeks before Russian troops marched into the country — taking control of two separatist regions that it still holds today, Abkhazia and South Ossetia — cyberattacks were used to target Georgian government sites and web infrastructure. Similar attacks spiked during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. In such cases, the intent of attacks can be as much to sow confusion as it is to disable critical services.

As part of the attacks on Ukraine’s government websites this week, messages were posted in three languages: Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian. “Ukrainian! All your personal data was uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” reads the message. “All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future.”

According to Sky News, the EU has called an emergency meeting to respond to the attacks.

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