The world is not unaware of the growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The global markets have responded accordingly to these rising tensions and an impending war between the two countries as well. These tensions were only fuelled by the recent discovery made by Microsoft about the cyberattacks against the Ukrainian Government websites.
The findings, discovered by the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Centre( MSTIC), revealed that destructive malware, including a ransomware, was found infecting several organisations of Ukraine, which included several governmental, non-profit and information technology organisations. While the findings did not reveal the source or any associations to link these attacks, they did identify a Bitcoin wallet in a ransom note left by the attackers, where the attackers asked for 10,000 USD in Bitcoin in order to recover the files. However, a peculiar finding of the researchers was that this Ransom note was a ruse, as Malware that infected the system had rather destroyed/overwritten the files and it had no recovery system to decrypt or recover the files either. This led the researchers to conclude that these activities were only for the Destruction of files and important data and was designed to hide under the garb of a cyberattack. However, these findings point out a greater issue and concern due to the current geopolitical climate.
These rising issues and conflict have emerged after it was discovered that Russia had placed several thousands of Military personnel along with Military Equipment and Weaponry near the Ukrainian Borders. This positioning has raised concerns over an impending Political invasion as the US intelligence officials issued a warning that Russia may be planning to invade Ukraine by Early 2022. This is also complemented by the demands raised by the Foreign Ministry of Russia which included a ban on Ukraine entering the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and reduction of NATO Troops and equipment from Europe. However, their demands were rejected and a significant amount of assistance has been deployed for Ukraine amidst the rising tensions.
In this heated Geo-political conflict, which has escalated towards an Armed conflict and has taken a lot of Human Lives already, it seems only natural that the Countries involved in the conflict also explore other avenues or fronts for their political benefits. As we observed from the recent cyberattack on the Ukrainian institutions, which was meant solely for the destruction of information and not aimed towards gaining monetary benefit, signifies that the one such front is Cyber-warfare. While no links have been found to this incident, Russia is considered to be the primary suspect in the present scenario. The United States Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have also issued an advisory for the present matter, to all the organisations especially the ones working the Ukrainian Organisations, to improve their Cyber Security Practices as the Localised Attack could spread out Globally, as they referenced to the NotPetya and Wannacry cyber-attacks, which began by locally affecting Ukraine but then further affected several other organisations around the world.
The advisory issued by the US CISA also highlights a greater issue at place here, as to how a local cyberconflict can easily spiral out of control worldwide thereby giving rise to a much greater conflict. This could easily begin after a state-sponsored cyber-attack that affected a critical organisation working with the Ukrainian Government or any other Ukrainian Government gets identified and then gets treated as an act of cyber-terrorism due to far-reaching consequences. This can then get treated as an act of war and thereby would invite retaliation and then involve other countries or even give rise to an armed conflict as it will essentially affect the insecurities of the governments and make them look weak.
Gone are the days where Russian and American tanks moved an inch every time the other moved back after the escalation of conflict at the Berlin wall. The world is in a significantly different position where the moment the anonymity of aggressors gets anonymised, the situation will spiral out of control and the world will not have enough time to deescalate the situation using peace talks and negotiation. It will be swift and non-violent but can entirely change the world we live in.
Author – Mr. Hrishikesh Bedi, Consultant, CyberPeace Foundation