Recent U.S. and European investments in cyber defense in Ukraine are being put to the test following Russia’s invasion of the country.
In the weeks and months leading up to the conflict, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) deployed a team of cyber warfare experts to help counter Russian cyberattacks from disrupting the country’s critical infrastructure.
A newly formed EU cyber rapid response team consisting of 12 experts and a “hunt forward” team with U.S. Cyber Command were dispatched to Ukraine to look for active cyber threats inside the networks and strengthen the country’s cyber defenses.
This was in response to a wave of cyberattacks that targeted local banks and Ukrainian government websites — including the parliament and the foreign affairs and defense ministries — weeks and days before the invasion. Russia has denied any involvement.
The West began actively investing in Ukraine’s cyber defenses following the 2015 power grid hack and the 2017 Petya malware attack. The electrical grid attack left more than 200,000 people without power for several hours while the Petya malware disrupted key Ukrainian institutions, including banks, government ministries and companies.
James Turgal, the vice president of cybersecurity firm Optiv, said those attacks were a wake-up call for Ukraine and the West to put in place defensive measures to detect and prevent such attacks.
“Western countries, including the U.S., learned a lot from how the Russians carried that out,” Turgal said. “It was certainly to our benefit — and certainly Western Europe’s benefits — to assist the Ukrainians with that so that we understood what those tactics and procedures were used by the Russians.”
Turgal explained that some of that Western assistance includes helping the Ukrainians understand the different types of cyberattacks as well as figuring out where they originated from and how they entered the system, how far they spread throughout the networks, and how to deconstruct them.
With the assistance of the West, Ukraine has become more resilient since the initial cyberattacks, especially given that it is uniquely vulnerable to Russian attacks since most of its infrastructure was built by Moscow during the Soviet era.
“The original basic ecosystem that Ukraine runs on was built by the Russians,” said Turgal, a former executive assistant director for the FBI’s Information and Technology Branch. He added that the country has probably designed new technologies and upgraded some of its infrastructure when it became independent from the Soviet Union.
Turgal also said that Ukraine’s “cyber ecosystems are much stronger than they were prior to 2015,” in part because of the cyber assistance provided by the West.
The U.S. commitment to aid Ukraine was recently voiced by U.S. …….