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Europe was rushing on Friday to support Kiev’s cybersecurity services as they fight an attack on Ukrainian government websites.
Although no group was immediately identified as responsible, the attacks on official websites come as some 100,000 Russian troops are massed on the Ukrainian border, raising fears of a possible invasion. The suppression of communications would be an expected precursor of a military assault.
The European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, was quick to hint at the Kremlin’s involvement. Although he noted that the attacker was still unknown, he said “it is understandable” who is behind the strike against the websites.
He added that the bloc “will mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine cope with these cyber attacks”.
The websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education were closed due to the “massive hacking attack,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. tweeted Friday – a day after diplomatic talks between Russia and the West ended in deadlock.
On Friday, unidentified hackers degraded and crippled several Ukrainian government websites. “Ukrainians, be afraid and prepare for the worst. All of your personal data has been uploaded to the web,” said a message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, before the page was deleted. Foreign affairs, agriculture and education websites were still down at the time of writing, as were the websites of Ukrainian embassies and missions around the world.
EU Friday called on the Political and Security Committee (PSC), a body responsible for security and defense, to meet for an emergency meeting to discuss “how we can provide technical assistance to Ukraine so that ‘It increases its resilience against these type of attacks,’ Borrell told reporters in Brest, France, on the sidelines of an informal meeting of foreign ministers.
According to some diplomats, no decision is expected at the PSC meeting in the afternoon as Ukraine has yet to investigate who is behind the attack and also indicate what kind of help it needs. Still, a declaration has been offered and one option is to send experts. Diplomats point out that last month the EU agreed to give Ukraine € 31 million (from the European Peace Facility, an off-budget instrument that allows the bloc to do more on defense and security) and aims to provide support on cyber.
The bloc’s foreign minister said EU countries involved in a joint military cyber defense project would be invited to step in and help Ukraine.
Friday’s attack put security officials on high alert on what could happen next. Ukraine has been the target of massive cyber attacks that have been attributed to Russian state-backed groups in the past. Russian officials have been blamed by Western intelligence services for shutting down Ukrainian power grids in 2015 and 2016 and for triggering a global ransomware attack called NotPetya from Ukraine in 2017. The EU has implemented sanctions against Russian intelligence officials in July 2020 for this latest attack.
While officials did not call on Russia for carrying out Friday’s cyberattack, it fits the country’s strategy as it negotiates with Western powers over an escalation of the crisis at Ukraine’s borders. .
“For Russia, this is a show of force,” said Merle Maigre, former head of NATO’s Cyber Center of Excellence in Tallinn and cybersecurity expert, who has worked in Ukraine. “This is a classic example of how cyber attacks are part of foreign policy.”
But, she added, it was less drastic than expected for military action against Ukraine.
That said, officials fear the cyber attack could be the precursor to a Russian military operation.
“We have to be very firm in our messages to Russia that if there were attacks on Ukraine we would be very tough and very strong and robust in our response,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said. in Brest, although she also added that “of course we have to see who is responsible for it”.
His comments were echoed by Marcin Przydacz, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister, who told POLITICO that “we must not only offer our help to Ukraine, not only strengthen our European resilience in this area, but send a signal clear to those who are standing. Other aggressive measures, also those which fall below the threshold of war, should respond to our political, economic and diplomatic reaction.
According to Bart Groothuis, Member of the European Parliament and former senior cyber official at the Dutch Ministry of Defense, “We need to keep a cool head. functioning.”
“What is of key importance now is that EU member states investigate who is behind these attacks, that we find out,” Groothuis said, because it means the EU can take action. measures such as sanctions and diplomatic refoulement. “Without [attribution] we are a toothless tiger. “
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed from Brest, France.
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