Massive cyberattack hits Ukrainian government websites as West warns on Russia conflict

KYIV, Jan 14 (Reuters) – A massive cyberattack warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst” hit government websites late on Thursday, rendering some sites inaccessible on Friday morning and prompting Kiev to open an investigation .

Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters it was too early to say who might be behind the attack, but said Russia had been behind similar strikes in the past.

The cyberattack, which hit the Foreign Ministry, the cabinet of ministers and the Security and Defense Council among others, comes as Kiev and its allies have sounded the alarm over a possible new Russian military offensive against the ‘Ukraine.

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“It is too early to draw conclusions, but there is a long list of Russian (cyber) attacks against Ukraine in the past,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Russia has previously denied being behind cyberattacks against Ukraine.

“Ukrainian! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network. All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” reads a message visible on hacked government websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.

“All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, your present and your future.”

GROWING TENSION

After a flurry of inconclusive talks this week over security in Europe, the United States warned on Thursday that the threat of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine was high.

Russia has said dialogue is continuing but has hit a stalemate as it tries to persuade the West to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe – demands that Washington has called “non-starters”. Read more

Commenting on the cyberattack, a senior Ukrainian security official told Reuters: “All subjects of cybersecurity were aware of such possible provocations by the Russian Federation. Therefore, the response to these incidents is conducted as usually”.

The government later said it had restored most of the affected sites and no personal data had been stolen. A number of other government websites were suspended to prevent the attack from spreading, he said.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia fell apart after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of war between Kiev forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine the same year.

The United States said Thursday that Russia may try to create a pretext to launch a new military assault on Ukraine, likening the situation to circumstances in 2014.

Russia has warned of possible ‘catastrophic consequences’ if there is no agreement on what the Kremlin has called security red lines, but said Moscow has not abandoned diplomacy and would even speed it up.

The Russian comments reflect a tendency for Moscow to say it wants to pursue diplomacy but reject calls to reverse its troop buildup near Ukraine and warn of unspecified consequences for Western security if its demands go unheeded. .

Ukraine has suffered a series of cyberattacks since 2014, which have cut power, frozen supermarket checkouts and forced authorities to prop up the hryvnia currency after banks’ IT systems crashed.

Ukraine believes the attacks are part of what it calls Russia’s “hybrid war” against Ukraine and its allies.

In 2017, a virus called NotPetya by some experts hit Ukraine and spread around the world, crippling thousands of machines as it spread to dozens of countries.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement, dismissing “general unsubstantiated accusations”.

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Written by Matthias Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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