Forget the T-90 battle tanks, MiG 29 fighter jets and Kalashnikov machine guns -- Russia is reportedly unleashing a silent but just as damaging attack on Ukraine’s cyber space.
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As Russian diplomats meet with Western peers in Paris to talk about peace, security forces in Kiev say their communications system is being disrupted by the Russian army.
Government officials in Kiev and Crimea, the predominantly-Russian region, say their phones have been “blocked” for several days. Ukraine’s security chief says Ukrtelecom, a major telecom company in Ukraine, was raided last week by armed men who targeted fiber optic cabling, causing loss of service. Russia denies any knowledge, saying it’s impossible to track down exactly who is responsible.
Simply put it's underhanded business as usual. Before Russia moved into Georgia in 2008 to support the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, cyber attacks were used to overwhelm websites and servers in Georgia. Russia denied the accusations, but the tactic was obvious.
In 2007, Estonia became embroiled in an argument with Moscow over the relocation of a six-and –a-half foot tall bronze sculpture of a Red Army soldier that stood in the Capital City of Tallinn. The statue spat led to a 10-day attack on Estonia’s Internet services, causing major disruptions to the country’s financial system.
Again Russia denied any knowledge of the Web attack but the Kremlin cyber assaults offer a handy and covert alternative to the very visible deployment of troops. Even better, it is almost impossible to track down the perpetrators.
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Observers say for the time being it appears unlikely Russia will unleash a large-scale cyber attack on Ukraine, partly because keeping some communication lines open will allow Moscow to better track information coming out of Kiev.
So why don’t Ukrainian hackers fight back? After all, the Internet can provide a level playing field pitting cyber groups against each other regardless of a country’s size and resources. Turns out Ukrainian loyalists are pretty affective as well, albeit on a smaller scale.
A Ukrainian hacktivist group that calls itself Cyber-Berkut has attacked numerous websites including that of broadcaster Russia Today whose homepage was altered so that the word "Russians" was replaced with "Nazis". Patriotic hacking is one thing but a full on cyber assault by the Russian military is another.
For now Moscow is showing restraint but an escalation of violence could result in a major denial of service on Ukraine’s Internet.