Ukraine hit by DDoS attacks, Russia deploys malware

Digital skirmishes continue as tension mounts in Eastern Europe


The EU has sent a cyber response team to Ukraine as rumours of a planned Russian invasion reach fever pitch. Meanwhile, IBM's infosec division says the UK was one of the most targeted countries in Europe for cyberattacks last year.

The 12-strong Lithuanian-led team – including members from Estonia, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Croatia, Romania and Poland – is visiting Ukraine to help it defend against Russian cyberattacks both remotely and on-site in the country, an EU spokesman told the BBC.

Separately, this afternoon another series of outages appeared to hit various Ukrainian government websites. The Register verified that Cloudflare DDoS mitigation on the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence websites appeared to be working as advertised (the site loaded as normal after a Cloudflare landing page) but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ukrainian parliament's website were both inaccessible.

Last week some Ukrainian government websites as well as banks' public-facing websites were downed in a DDoS attack. British cybersecurity agencies later attributed these to Russia's GRU spy agency. The attacks echoed similar efforts from January which were later found to be the fault of Belarusians.

Bill Conner, CEO of firewall firm SonicWall, told The Register: "Cyberattacks can be leveraged to cause financial loss, create disruption and misdirection, and in extreme cases take down critical infrastructure. Those are key ingredients for causing unrest in any situation, regardless of the parties involved."

New malware deployed by Russia

In linked activity, today Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warned of a new malware strain dubbed Cyclops Blink, operated by the Sandworm threat actor. Sandworm is the industry nickname for the Russian GRU intelligence agency's tech offshoot, its Main Centre for Special Technologies.

"Cyclops Blink appears to be a replacement framework for the VPNFilter malware exposed in 2018, which exploited network devices, primarily small office/home office (SOHO) routers, and network attached storage (NAS) devices," warned NCSC.

VPNfilter was being actively used up to 2018, as we reported. As its Western nickname suggests, the malware compromised network endpoints by effectively sneaking past SME-grade routers. Its targets included Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, TP-Link, and QNAP.

Separately, IBM's X-Force infosec arm warned today that Britain is one of the top three cyberattack targets in Europe, alongside Germany and Italy. In a report the company said Britain's energy sector was the most likely to be targeted for cyberattacks, followed by manufacturing industries and financial services.

Laurance Dine, a global partner at IBM X-Force Incident Response, said in a statement: "Cybercriminals worldwide are becoming increasingly resilient, resourceful, and stealthy in their pursuit of critical data. In Europe, we saw adversaries overwhelmingly exploiting unpatched vulnerabilities to infiltrate victim environments in 2021.

"Businesses must start operating under the assumption of compromise, putting the proper controls in place to defend their environment and protect critical data." ®

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