Kyiv says Russian cyberattacks could be war crimes – POLITICO

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One of Ukraine’s top cybercrime officials said some cyberattacks on Ukrainian critical and civilian infrastructure could constitute war crimes.

Victor Zhora, head of digital transformation at the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection (SSSCIP) of Ukraine, said that Russia had launched cyberattacks in coordination with kinetic military attacks as part of of its invasion of Ukraine, claiming that digital warfare was part of what Kyiv considers war crimes committed against its citizens.

“When we observe the situation in cyberspace, we notice some coordination between kinetic strikes and cyberattacks, and since the majority of kinetic attacks are staged against civilians – being a direct act of war crime – supporting actions in cyber can be considered war crimes,” Zhora told POLITICO in an interview.

Ukrainian officials are collecting evidence of cyberattacks linked to military strikes and sharing the information with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, with the aim of supporting possible prosecutions of Russia’s actions, Zhora said.

Classifying Russia’s digital attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure as war crimes would be a first. Academics and researchers have been defending it since the start of the year, calling on the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to add the cyberattacks to their investigations into the war in Ukraine.

Zhora, who heads cybersecurity operations at Ukraine’s communications security authority SSSCIP, cited Russia’s July attacks on DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy investor, as an example. “Their thermal power plant was bombed and, simultaneously, their corporate network was attacked. It is a directed and planned activity of the Russians, which they have done both in the conventional and in the cyber domain.

Zhora saw similar coordinated activity in Odessa, Lviv and Mykolaiv, where the bombings “are supported by [cyber] attacks on local authorities, websites or local internet service providers,” he said. These attacks have a “direct impact” by disrupting data services, IT infrastructure, power grids, telecommunications and critical infrastructure, he said, adding that Ukrainian citizens “depend on the availability of these resources”.

Victor Zhora argued that since most military strikes target civilians, cyberattacks launched in coordination can be considered war crimes | Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Russian state-backed groups have targeted Ukrainian infrastructure and attempted to disrupt efforts by allies in Europe and the West to support Kyiv in the war. NATO officials have also signaled that cyberattacks could “spread” into NATO countries, potentially escalating the conflict.

Moscow is not just about cyberattacks, Zhora said of the war in digital space. Russia has launched efforts to sow panic through propaganda and disinformation, as well as attempts to penetrate networks and extract data it can use to identify and target people who could pose a threat to its military offensive.

“Russian troops often use screening procedures in occupied territories to identify people who support Ukraine, who were engaged in public service or military service, so they capture them, then torture them, kill them,” he said. said Zhora.

The Ukrainian official said it was time for the international community to discuss the impact of these attacks – cyber, disinformation and digital targeting – and how to respond to them. “We are discussing completely new terms and ideas about how to classify these attacks, which happened during the war, which have never happened before.”


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