image showing hacked screen

UK urged to prepare for Russian cyberattacks

UK organisations and businesses have been urged to prepare for Russian cyberattacks as the prospect of military conflict in Ukraine looms large. The warning comes after dozens of Ukrainian state websites were hacked in recent weeks, with Russia almost certainly to blame.

One cyberattack in late January saw a message saying “Be afraid and wait for the worst” flash up on Ukrainian government computer screens. Officials from the United States and NATO condemned the attack.

Speaking about the threat to the UK, which is continuing diplomatic efforts to avoid war in the region, Paul Chichester, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) head of operations, said it was “vital that organisations follow (cyber security) guidance to ensure they are resilient.”

Chichester told the Financial Times: “Over several years, we have observed a pattern of malicious Russian behaviour in cyber space. Last week’s incidents in Ukraine bear the hallmarks of similar Russian activity we have observed before.”

The NCSC, part of the UK intelligence agency GCHQ, stressed it was urgently investigating these attacks but stopped short of attributing responsibility for them. The NCSC also said it hadn’t, to date, identified any specific and active Ukraine-related threats against UK organisations or businesses.

Despite not pointing the finger of blame towards Russia regarding the recent Ukrainian incident, the NCSC cited 2017’s NotPetya virus. The agency did blame this event, which was estimated to have cost businesses worldwide $1.2 billion (£884 million), on Russian threat actors.

UK warnings mirror others

The NCSC warning mirrors those from others throughout January. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, along with the FBI, had already sent out warnings about Russian cyberattacks on infrastructure. Meanwhile, Canada’s foreign affairs department was hacked on 19th January, the same day its top cyber agency had sent out its own warning about Russian attacks.

Some analysts believe Russia could be using cyberattacks to raise the political cost to the United States and NATO members of intervening in any potential Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent conflict. UK politicians have already warned that cyberattacks have the potential to shut down the country’s public services.

The NCSC has published a list of actions it recommends that organisations and businesses take, including patching their systems, checking data backups, and practising good “data hygiene.”

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