Fighting in the east has come to characterize
Ukraine. But Ukraine’s struggle for survival and self-determination, free of corrupt governments
and Russian influence is fought on many other fronts.
In this programme, we’ll look at four distinct challenges Ukraine faces in addition to fighting
on its borders. From cyber defence to internal defence, fixing its forces to telling the
truth – Ukraine faces challenges that may determine its very survival.
The day before the Ukrainian Presidential election results were announced, a hacker
group calling themselves Cyber Berkut infiltrated Ukraine’s central election computer systems.
According to Ukraine officials, if the malicious software they installed had not been discovered
and removed, it would have portrayed that ultra-nationalist Right Sector leader Dmytro
Yarosh had won with 37 per cent of the vote instead of the one percent he actually received.
Moderate Petro Poroshenko, the actual winner with a majority of the vote, would have been
placed in second with 29 percent. Cyber Berkut’s aim? To feed into the Russian
myth that Ukraine had fallen to a fascist coup. That evening Russian Channel One aired
a bulletin declaring Mr Yarosh the winner, quoting these exact percentages.
But cyber attacks can be more sinister than pushing Russian propaganda. BlackEnergy is
a well-known cybercrime toolkit that’s been in use since 2007, but over the summer of
2014, as tensions rose between Russia and Ukraine, a new version of the malware was
detected being used by a mysterious group of hackers targeting Ukrainian government
officials to harvest information. “It’s not easy to define the main source
of cyber attacks, but when we think about the results and the aim of the attacks, we
can guess that these are caused by Russians.” The Black Energy hackers targeted government
infrastructure like the Ukrainian Railway, creating proxy servers at key locations to
divert traffic, which could have resulted in commuter deaths.
“Ukraine has a lot of serious and dangerous facilities in the chemical, nuclear sectors
and also gas pipelines. Any debilitation of these facilities could lead to very serious
ecological consequences for Ukraine and for Europe.”
The pattern of these attacks follows political events with chilling predictability. For example,
a day after the recent announcement of an IMF loan to Ukraine, Ukrainian banks were
attacked. For Russian myth busting site Stop Fake, attacks
not only follow a pattern, hackers and their junior cousins, trolls, become familiar faces.
“The more popular the post, the more acute it is, especially after we published evidence
of Russian forces in Ukraine, we noticed. After that we got a DDoS (denial of service)
attack. They don’t even try to hide behind proxy servers, they come straight from Russia
– Moscow, St Petersburg and Novosibirsk. We have some old faces, as we call them and
they can be recognised by their mistakes. They can change their IP address, but the
grammar gives them away.” While cyber defence experts can usually tell
whether attacks are so called “patriotic hacking”, by lone actors or organised cybercrime
by large institutions, the answer remains the same. Vigilant and coordinated cyber defence.
Ukraine doesn’t lack in expertise, but years of neglect and corruption in government institutions
have led to a significant brain drain. “They have enough cyber security experts,
for me I think, but they’re currently working in the private sector, because he earns much
money in that. This is the main problem Ukrainian government and Ukrainian institutions faces.”
NATO has promised money for developing Ukraine’s cyber defence capabilities. It’s a project
led by Allied countries Romania and Hungary and helped by Estonia, a Baltic country who
had their own massive cyber attack in 2007, that most believe originated in Russia. Eight
years later Allied countries like Estonia are well-placed to help Ukraine with a tactic
they and other nearby countries find so familiar. “Ukrainian politicians and experts in the
field of cyber defence thought we could find some middle ground, between the western position
and the eastern position, which is represented by Russia. But the latest historical events
happening here, they confirm very precisely that we don’t have any choice. We have to
use the existing experience of the United States and NATO countries to protect critical