s Russia steps up its cyberattacks on Ukraine alongside a military invasion, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are worried the situation could spill over into other countries, becoming an all-out cyberwar.
Russia has been blamed for a number of cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s government and banking system in recent weeks.
On Thursday, cybersecurity firm ESET said it had discovered new “wiper” malware targeting Ukrainian organizations. Such software aims to erase data from the systems it targets.A day earlier, the websites of several Ukrainian government departments and banks were knocked offline by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which is when hackers overwhelm a website with traffic until it crashes.
It comes after a separate attack last week took down four Ukrainian government websites, which U.S. and U.K. officials attributed to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.
Ukrainian residents also reportedly received fake text messages saying ATMs in the country did not work, which cybersecurity experts say was likely a scare tactic.
For its part, Russia says it “has never conducted and does not conduct any ‘malicious’ operations in cyberspace.”The onslaught of attacks has led to fears of a wider digital conflict, with Western governments bracing for cyberthreats from Russia — and considering how to respond.
Officials in both the U.S. and Britain are warning businesses to be alert to suspicious activity from Russia on their networks. Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Thursday said European nations should be “aware of the cybersecurity situation in their countries.”
NBC News reported Thursday that President Joe Biden has been presented with options for the U.S. to carry out cyberattacks on Russia to disrupt internet connectivity and shut off its electricity. A White House spokesperson pushed back on the report, however, saying it was “wildly off base.”
Nevertheless, cybersecurity researchers say an online conflict between Russia and the West is indeed a possibility — though the severity of any such event may be limited.
“I think it’s very possible, but I think it’s also important that we reflect on the reality of cyberwar,” John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence analysis at Mandiant, told CNBC.
“It’s easy to hear that term and compare it to real war. But the reality is, most of the cyberattacks we’ve seen have been nonviolent, and largely reversible.”