Ukraine shrugs off mass govt website defacement as world turns to stare at Russia

Despite threatening messages nothing's been leaked, say victims

A "massive" cyber attack on Ukraine caught the world's eye this morning as the country's foreign ministry said its website, among others, had been taken down by unidentified hackers.

The attack, which took place overnight, saw websites for the foreign ministry, ministerial cabinet, security and defence council, treasury and more being defaced with messages telling Ukrainians that personal data had been stolen and that they should "be afraid and expect the worst."

Immediately the whole world thought of Russia; Vladimir Putin's armed forces invaded and occupied Crimea in 2014 and according to some is now eyeing up the remaining portion of the ex-Soviet nation. Until recent unrest in Kazakhstan a very large Russian military presence had been noted in eastern Ukraine, seemingly poised to continue the invasion.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said: "I strongly condemn the cyber attacks on the Ukrainian government," adding that the alliance would shortly enhance its cyber cooperation with the eastern European country.

Meanwhile, Ukraine itself held off on attribution, with a foreign ministry spokesman telling the Reuters newswire it was too early to say who was responsible – but adding Russia has done similar things in the past.

It does not appear, from either infosec industry sources or media coverage, that this was anything more than a headline-catching defacement; there are no mentions of non-public-facing digital infrastructure being attacked or taken offline, and the Ukrainian security service later said no personal data had been leaked. Analysts expect Russia would try to cripple digital comms networks as an immediate prelude to further invasion.

The attack reportedly targeted 15 websites in Ukraine that used the PHP-based October content management system, and resulted in websites being defaced. This included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cabinet of Ministers, Treasury, and others.

Ukraine's CERT said the attackers got in by exploiting a months-old vulnerability in its Laravel-based CMS, OctoberCMS.

A summary of the vuln (rated 6.4 on the CVSS scale) explained that an account password reset can be exploited through a crafted request allowing malicious people to seize control of it.

Threat intel firm Cyjax, which meshes items of infosec interest with geopolitics, said that "suspicion of responsibility has also fallen on Russia due to the current situation in the region."

The firm's CISO, Ian Thornton-Trump, told The Register: "With global tensions and other protagonists who don't look fondly on G-7, NATO or the EU, there is always a chance that a cyber-attack can be mis-attributed and becomes a false flag operation designed to increase tensions."

John Hultquist, Mandiant's veep of intelligence analysis, said in a canned statement: "Mass defacements of Ukrainian government sites are consistent with incidents we've seen in the past as tensions have grown in region. As far back as the invasion of Georgia in 2008 we saw a defacement of their Ministry of Foreign Affairs that juxtaposed the Georgian President with Hitler. As recently as 2019, Sandworm, GRU Unit 74455, carried out mass defacements in Georgia."

At the time of writing, Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website was inaccessible, with connection requests timing out. The ministry said it would be using social media for broadcasting essential messages.

"If it turns out that it was the October CMS vulnerability from last year," Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey told The Register, "it makes you wonder why they hadn't patched it already with the available update."

Prof Woodward added: "It's difficult to see this as an attack that forms part of a prelude to war. However, with tensions so high, even minor actions could elicit a much more serious response: these things can escalate frighteningly quickly."

Over the past few months Russia has deployed bellicose rhetoric about NATO expansion into what Putin sees as Russia's sphere of influence, apparently considering that as something which applies to modern Russia. Despite assurances from Western leaders and NATO commanders that Ukraine will not become a formal member of the counter-Russian alliance, Russia continues posturing, posing and making laughable demands.

Russia maintains hacking units that have previously targeted the Ukrainian government; the 16th and 18th divisions of the FSB were last seen pumping malspam into random orgs' mailboxes. Perhaps they've got their day jobs back. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022