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No lights, no heat, no money: Life of Ukrainian people during cyber warfare

Experts believe that hackers who defaced and disrupted access to a number of Ukrainian government websites on Friday may be setting the stage for more serious cyberattacks that disrupt the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.

“As tensions rise, we can expect more aggressive cyber activity in Ukraine and possibly elsewhere,” said John Hultquist, a cybersecurity analyst at Mandiant in the United States. This could include “destructive attacks that target critical infrastructure.”

“Organizations must start preparing now,” Hultquist said.

Hacker attacks on hospitals, power companies, and the financial system were uncommon until recently. However, in the last two years, organised cybercriminals, many of whom are based in Russia, have targeted institutions aggressively with ransomware, freezing data and computerised equipment used to care for hospital patients.

According to litigation, media reports, and medical professionals, extortion attacks have resulted in patient deaths in some cases.

At a time when Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine, raising fears in the West that it is considering an invasion, Friday’s attack on Ukrainian websites included a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst.” Moscow has denied any intention of invading.

Over the years, Russia has repeatedly denied hacking allegations made by Ukraine and other countries. Russia has not been directly accused by Ukraine, despite being a suspect in the new web defacements.

In 2014, Russian troops invaded Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, and annexed it from Ukraine. Former CrowdStrike cybersecurity executive Dmitri Alperovitch predicted that if Russia invaded again, more cyberattacks would follow.

According to Alperovitch, they would most likely be disruptive rather than fatal. “It’ll be a bit of a sideshow. The main event will take place on the ground.”

Ukraine has already been the victim of some of the most serious infrastructure hacks to date.

In December 2015, a first-of-its-kind cyber attack in western Ukraine knocked out power to 225,000 people, with hackers also sabotaging power distribution equipment, making restoration efforts more difficult.

The average temperature in Ukraine during the winter is below freezing, and losing heat can be fatal. In some towns, outages during the 2015 attack reportedly lasted six hours.

According to officials, hackers targeted Ukrainian state institutions 6,500 times in the last two months of 2016. According to the government, the cyberattacks demonstrated that Russian security services were engaged in a cyberwar against Ukraine.

For several days, the State Treasury’s systems were down, preventing state employees and retirees from receiving their salaries or payments on time.

Experts believe the cyberattacks on Ukraine’s power grid are the first instances of hackers shutting down critical energy systems that supply heat and light to millions of people.

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