Ukraine had ‘expected more sophisticated cyber attacks’

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The Russian cyber attacks in Ukraine are less sophisticated than expected. This is what the Ukrainian Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation, George Dubinsky, tells BNR’s Europe reporter Geert Jan Hahn. In BNR Digital, Hahn says that apart from the start of the war, there have been no successful Russian cyber attacks.

“This is a hybrid conflict and it didn’t start yesterday, not a year ago, but already in 2014.” According to Dubinsky, the entire conflict consists of a ground war, but also of a cyber war and an information war. Hahn adds that an hour before the invasion, the Russians shut down an important satellite network, preventing the Ukrainian army from communicating properly. Since then, however, the Russians have not been able to successfully carry out a large-scale cyber operation.

Total Blackout

Ukraine was still very close to a total blackout. ‘Russia knew the architecture of our system. That was very centralized and it allowed them to hit the most vulnerable points. Our experts were able to prevent a blackout by cutting up the system,’ says Dubinsky.

The Russians are therefore not yet very successful and, according to Dubinsky, this is partly due to their own ignorance and poor coordination between different services. “We were well prepared, but frankly we expected more sophisticated attacks.” The deputy minister says that Ukraine has been improving the country’s digital security since 2014. In addition, a lot of help has also come from Western companies and governments, so that Ukraine has so far held its own against Russia’s digital fist.

Also listen | Where are those massive Russian cyber attacks on Ukraine?

Dubinsky cites Amazon, Google, Oracle and Microsoft as key partners in cloud, licensing and anti-virus software. But Elon Musk’s satellite network Starlink is also important for the Ukrainian communication network. Part of that network is made available by Musk and another part is paid for by Poland.

That focus on cyber security has meant that Ukraine has not yet been able to launch a digital attack itself. Dubinsky puts his hand in his own bosom. ‘You need digital troops for a digital counter-offensive. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those before the invasion. That’s our fault, maybe we should have been more proactive.’ According to Hahn a special statement. “A Ukrainian government official who dares to express criticism in times of war is remarkable to say the least.”

Spotting Russians via app

In Ukraine, there has also been a strong digital awareness for some time. For example, all government digital affairs are bundled in a supper app called Diia. Here, citizens can keep their passports and driver’s licenses, arrange tax matters and watch public broadcasting, among other things. Since the war, the app can also be used to report Russian soldiers who have been spotted. According to Dubinsky, 462,000 Ukrainians have already passed on such tips.

The Ukrainians also hope to use this app as an export product. “We believe that with Diia we can really add something once we are a member of the EU.” President Zelensky has already indicated that he wants to rebuild Ukraine as a digital country after the war. According to Hahn, that is certainly possible. ‘All lines with Big Tech and Western partners have been laid. So in principle that path has now been taken.’

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