11 January 2023

Russian cyberattacks could equate to war crimes, Ukraine says


Russian cyberattacks could equate to war crimes, Ukraine says

Russian cyberattacks on critical and civilian infrastructure could amount to war crimes, because they directly impact Ukrainian civilians, a senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official said.

Victor Zhora, chief digital transformation officer at the State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP) of Ukraine told Politico that Russia has launched cyberattacks in coordination with kinetic military attacks as part of its invasion of the country, which could equate to war crimes.

“When we observe the situation in cyberspace we notice some coordination between kinetic strikes and cyberattacks, and since the majority of kinetic attacks are organized against civilians — being a direct act of war crime — supportive actions in cyber can be considered as war crimes,” Zhora said.

According to Zhora, Ukrainian authorities are gathering evidence of cyberattacks linked to military strikes to share with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, in an effort to support potential prosecutions into Russia's actions.

The cybersecurity official cited several examples of Russia’s digital warfare like last year’s attack on the infrastructure of DTEK Group, Ukraine's largest energy holding company. According to DTEK, Russia launched a cyberattack on its corporate network at the same time as a terrorist missile attack on the Kryvorizka thermal power plant.

Similar coordinated activity was observed in Odesa, Lviv, and Mykolaiv, where shelling “is supported with [cyber] attacks on local authorities, websites, or on local internet service providers,” Zhora said.

These attacks disrupt data services, IT infrastructure, power grids, telecommunications, and critical infrastructure, impacting Ukrainian citizens who “depend on the availability of these resources.”

Last December, Microsoft warned that Russia stepped up its multi-pronged hybrid technology approach, which includes both kinetic military operations and cyberattacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure to pressure the sources of Kyiv’s military and political support.


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