The war between Russia and Ukraine is not just physical: there is also a cyber war going on. Russian hackers have been carrying out cyber attacks in Ukraine for years, but in recent weeks the Russians have picked up the pace. Not only Ukraine suffers from this, the West is also at risk.
The cyber war from both sides
‘I see many interesting developments on both sides,’ says CEO Netherlands Dave Maasland of safety company Eset. Maasland follows developments closely. ‘On the one hand you see that cyber attacks on Ukraine are increasing, and with all malicious software they really are intended to destroy organizations. There are concerns about the spread of this malware, which could have serious consequences.’ Maasland looks back on a global hack in 2017, which shut down the port of Rotterdam. The hack probably started at container giant Maersk and then spread to other companies, as a result of which the port of Rotterdam also came to a standstill. According to Maasland, this is a plausible future scenario in view of the current situation and requires much more attention.
Yet there also seem to be good developments within this cyber war. ‘You see that hackers are uniting worldwide. A kind of IT army is being created. The hacker collective Anonymous has also made some special discoveries that are interesting to say the least. The existence of the collective is sometimes questioned, but for now it seems that they really have been up to some pranks.’ For example, Maasland says that Anonymous has successfully hacked into Russian state television. They have taken over channels and shut down a large number of websites. And it doesn’t stop there, his latest news is that the hackers have managed to attack a large Russian company and gain access to a control panel for gas supply.
On the one hand, cyber attacks on Ukraine are increasing, says Maasland, but the hackers who have united are not here for petty mischief to take down some websites. “We’re talking about major, serious operations. A major railway company has been hacked in Belarus. The trains were disrupted as a result. And so it goes back and forth.’
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Which information is real and which is not?
A very important question in such an information war is, what is true and what is a fabrication? How can this be verified? According to Maasland, that will always be difficult. ‘We have to be very sharp. Cyber can be escalating. What makes it even more difficult is that any kind of hacker can join the IT military. For example, there are now many attic hackers who participate, along with the larger collectives. Everything gets mixed up because of this.’ What Maasland always does is check whether the information in Ukraine can be verified by citizens or companies. According to him, that is the best proof. ‘We are now seeing more and more that the information that comes out is also followed. It is all the more important that it is certain that this information is correct.’
Anyone can start their own cyber operation
‘Everything has been digitized, including our warfare.’ Maasland emphasizes that there should be no panic about cyber, but that we should take this digital component very seriously. So it is possible to frustrate the soldiers’ supply lines, but it can also provoke a fierce reaction. “The line is getting very thin now. Every country or person can run their own cyber operations, so it’s all going to be mixed up. It’s an exciting time now. The question is, when will this escalate and will we feel something about it?’
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