The Russian-Ukrainian cyber war could be “far more serious and damaging” than any actions taken involving the annexation of Crimea, according to computer security and forensics expert Darren Hayes.
“”Social media, government administrations and national defence systems all rely on Internet communications,” Hayes wrote in a statement to Business Insider. “Cyber-attacks will continue to be largely silent but potentially devastating during this conflict and could prove to be more decisive than trade sanctions or armed maneuvers.”
The cyberattacks between the two countries started off relatively innocuously as a battle for “hearts and minds,” as hackers from the two countries defaced and targeted opposing media channels and websites.
On Saturday, stakes rose sharply after Russian hackers targeted Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council with a denial-of-service attack that crippled many computers and brought down networks.
Both Russia and Ukraine have substantial hacking resources at their disposal.
“Groups like the Russian Business Network have some of the best hackers in the world. They are highly-organised, well financed and remain unchallenged by Russian authorities,” Hayes said.
Meanwhile, Anonymous Ukraine has published a listing of around three dozen Russian government email addresses, along with the names of about 1,400 former Berkut members.
Continued attacks from either party could lead to a crippling of financial sectors, interruption of telecommunication networks, or even a disruption of utility services in extreme cases.
“Many are wondering whether the current standoff in Crimea could lead to war between the Ukraine and Russia. The fact is that a cyberwar has already begun,” Hayes said.
Russia has a history of using cyberwarfare. In 2007 Russia subjected Estonia to 10 days of intense denial-of-service attacks that brought down its financial sector after a disagreement between the two countries over the moving of a Soviet war memorial.
In 2008 cyber-attacks were used to bring down Georgia’s defence network prior to the Russian invasion.
“The recent reports about malware infecting critical networks in Ukraine and the hacking of mobile phones and email accounts of senior politicians from the European Union and Ukraine are reminiscent of the Russia-Georgia conflict over Ossetia,” Hayes said.
Russia has denied responsibility for the attacks in Estonia and Georgia, and it can continue to shift blame to third-party ‘patriotic’ hackers.
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