Ukraine buffeted by data-wiping cyberattack as invasion fears loom

A January 2022 photo shows a message of warning on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, after a massive cyber attack. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON/KYIV (REUTERS) – A newly discovered piece of destructive software found circulating in Ukraine has hit hundreds of computers, researchers at the cybersecurity firm ESET said on Wednesday (Feb 23).

In a series of statements posted to Twitter, the company said that the destructive software had been “installed on hundreds of machines in the country,” an attack it said had likely been in the works for the past couple of months.

Vikram Thakur of cybersecurity firm Symantec, which is also looking into the attacks, told Reuters that infections had spread widely.

“We see activity across Ukraine and Latvia,” Thakur said.

Who is responsible for the wiper remains unclear, although suspicion immediately fell on Russia, which has repeatedly been accused of launching data-scrambling hacks against Ukraine and other countries. Russia has denied the allegations.

Cybersecurity experts were racing to get to pick apart the program, a copy of which was uploaded to the Alphabet-owned crowdsourced cybersecurity site VirusTotal, to see what its capabilities were.

Ukraine has already been repeatedly hit by hackers as Russia has massed troops around its borders.

Earlier on Wednesday the websites of Ukraine’s government, foreign ministry and state security service were down in what the government said was the start of another denial of service (DDoS) attack.

“At about 4pm, another mass DDoS attack on our state began. We have relevant data from a number of banks,” said Mykhailo Fedorov, Minister of Digital Transformation, adding that the parliament website was also hit.

He did not mention which banks were affected and the central bank could not immediately be reached for comment.

The online networks of Ukraine’s defence ministry and two banks were overwhelmed last week in a separate intrusion. The US company Netscout Systems later said the impact had been modest.

Ukrainian authorities said this week they had seen signs that hackers were preparing to launch major attacks on government agencies, banks and the defence sector.

Ukraine has suffered a string of cyberattacks that Kyiv has blamed on Russia. Moscow, which is caught up in a mounting confrontation with the West over Ukraine, has denied any involvement.

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