Hackers attacked a number of Ukrainian government websites on Friday, temporarily shutting down sites and leaving messages warning readers to “be afraid and expect the worst.”
A spokesman 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 had been changed on the sites and no personal information had been leaked.
Among those affected were websites for the government’s cabinet, security and defense councils and the Ministry of Education. “Our specialists are already restoring the work of IT systems and the cyber police has launched an investigation,” the spokesperson said.
Despite their apparently superficial nature, the attacks are significant given the mounting tensions in the region. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops are currently collected at the borders of Ukraine, and Western intelligence agencies are warning that a full-scale invasion could be imminent. Russian troops and Russian-backed insurgents have been occupying areas of the country since 2014, including the Crimean peninsula and parts of the Donbas region.
While there is no clear culprit for today’s cyber attacks, officials are already suggesting that Russia may be responsible. “It is too early to draw any conclusions, but there is a long history of Russian attacks on Ukraine,” said a Ukrainian government spokesman. told Sky News. The EU’s head of foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, told reporters this morning that he “has no proof who was responsible”, but “we can imagine who is behind it”.
Russia has previously launched cyber-attacks as a prelude to ground warfare, such as during the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Weeks before Russian troops entered the country — taking control of two separatist regions it still holds today, Abkhazia and South Ossetia — cyber-attacks were launched. used to Georgian Government Sites and Web Infrastructure. Similar attacks increased during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. In such cases, the intent of attacks can be as much to confuse as to disable critical services.
As part of the attacks on Ukrainian government websites this week, messages were posted in three languages: Ukrainian, Polish and Russian. “Ukrainian! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer has been destroyed, it is impossible to recover,” the message reads. “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 convened an emergency meeting to respond to the attacks.