Ukraine cyber spies claim Putin's planes are in peril as sanctions bite
Aeroflot fleet still has a smoking section, but not for tobacco
Ukrainian government cyber snoops claim they've infiltrated the computer systems of Russia's federal air transport agency Rosaviatsiya, and stolen data that shows the invading nation’s civil aviation sector is on the "verge of collapse."
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence last week described its actions as a "successful complex special operation in cyberspace" that involved “hacking and penetration of enemy information systems includes a list of daily reports of Rosaviatsiya for the entire Russian Federation for more than a year and a half.”
The ministry asserts that its analysis of the documents shows "the civil aviation sector of terrorist Russia is on the verge of collapse.” Rosaviatsiya did not immediately respond to The Register's request for comment.
The Ukrainian cyberspies claim the pilfered documents include records showing that, as of January 2023, Rosaviatsiya cited 185 aviation accidents, about a third of which were classified as dangerous. Additionally, in the first nine months of this year, the agency reported 150 cases of aircraft malfunctions, compared to 50 during the same period in 2022.
The exfiltrated files also reportedly note 19 different failures occurring in Russia's 220 Airbus planes, plus 17 instances of smoke coming from planes operated by Aeroflot, Russia’s flag carrier and largest airline. Similarly, the 230 Boeing jets operating in Russia experienced 33 technical failures.
By way of contrast, the USA’s National Transportation Safety Board has recorded 1,430 aviation incidents across all of 2023, but that number includes numerous light aircraft and general aviation operations. Ukraine’s data pertains only to commercial aviation. And the USA has a far larger commercial and passenger aviation fleet than Russia.
Ukraine also claims that, while only up to 10 percent of Russia's 820 foreign-made civilian aircraft have undergone "uncertified maintenance with the use of non-authentic spare parts" as of March 2022, almost 70 percent of the planes have undergone uncertified maintenance as of now.
The intelligence service says this parts shortage has led to "aviation cannibalism" by Russia, with some aircraft being pulled apart to repair others, a not-uncommon practice in the aviation industry.
"Today, Moscow is trying to hide the endless pile of problems with civil aviation, endangering its residents, by all means," the ministry wrote.
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When asked about the Ukrainian governments' cyber-espionage claims, Tom Kellermann, SVP of cyber strategy at application security software vendor Contrast Security, told The Register that it is an effective way to fight an online campaign.
"The Ukrainians are waging cyberwar against Russia. It is high time that they stopped playing defense," Kellermann said. "The irony of Russia is that they are very active and capable offensively but their cyber defenses are weak."
[Russia is] very active and capable offensively but their cyber defenses are weak
Western nations banned exports of aircraft materials and technology to Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Those sanctions mean spare parts for Boeings and Airbuses can’t reach Russia, which is hurting Russia's aviation industry and putting passengers in danger, according to Ukraine.
The Register has not verified the documents, and information operations from both Russia and Ukraine — and even outside sources — have played a major part in the cyber piece of this war since it started.
Days after Ukraine leaked the Russian aviation data, Russia's Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev told journos at RBC that Russia lost 76 planes because of Western sanctions. But, he added, the country seized 800 others owned by Western leasing companies and operated by local airlines. ®