Ukraine a “training ground” for Russian hacking attacks on west

Ukraine has become a “training ground” for Russian hackers wishing to perpetrate cyber-attacks on the west, a Kyiv security expert has claimed.

Oleksii Yasinsky, forensic analyst at Kyiv cyber security firm ISSP, claimed that Russian hackers are using Ukraine to "hone technologies, mastery and attack techniques" for bigger targets – such as Europe and the US. 

According to Yasinsky: "It will be a quiet attack.” He added: "Whoever controls cyber-space will control the world."

It comes after National Cyber Security Centre chief, Ciaran Martin confirmed in November that the Kremlin had ordered a cyber-assault on the UK's major power companies in a bid to disrupt international order.

In June last year, more than 300 Ukrainian companies were victims of the global cyber-attack dubbed NotPetya, thought to be state sponsored. The country also suffered power cuts in December 2015 and 2016, attributed to a hacker group called ‘Sandworm', which is thought by some to have meddled in the US elections. 

Russia denies any wrongdoing, but last month during a visit to Moscow, International Secretary Boris Johnson warned the country not to target the UK.

“We know Russia are up to no good in terms of their cyber-capability and I'm afraid it will only get worse,” Jamal Elmellas, CTO at Auriga Consulting told SC UK. “It's now part of a conventional war tool chest where they will soften targets in preparation for a physical attack.”

Elmellas said Russia is carrying out covert attacks on foreign nations to spread fake news and steal state secrets. However, he added that an attack on UK critical infrastructure in the near future is unlikely because “they don't have the capability to hide their footprints”. 

“They can be identified by the tools they utilise: there are signatures which give them away.”

At the same time, Clive Longbottom, founder of Quocirca told SC UK it is important “not to get distracted by finger-pointing”.  

He added: “Cyber-security is the new battlefield, but it is not just down to Russia.  We know that North Korea is also pretty hot in the area, and the SCADA attacks in places like Iran point towards countries such as Israel also being active.”

“As machine learning and AI become more widespread, and the cannier governments invest in technology and skills to make the most of this kind of stuff, the world will move to a primary cyber-war field, with the likes of false news and redirection becoming more commonplace.”

To stay secure in this evolving threat landscape, Elmellas said firms and governments should invest in risk management. “There is a lack of funds – and we are not investing enough in our defences.”

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