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Microsoft warns of massive cyberattack to preclude eventual ground invasion of Ukraine - The New York Times

17.01.2022, 12:59 De Lellis De Lellis

Microsoft warned on Saturday evening that it had detected a highly destructive form of malware in dozens of government and private computer networks in Ukraine that appeared to be waiting to be triggered by an unknown actor, as The New York Times reported.

Microsoft said "in a blog post, that around the same time government agencies in Ukraine found that their websites had been defaced — investigators who watch over Microsoft’s global networks detected the code. “These systems span multiple government, nonprofit and information technology organizations, all based in Ukraine,” Microsoft said."

"On Sunday, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the government was examining the code that Microsoft first reported. “We’ve been warning for weeks and months, both publicly and privately, that cyberattacks could be part of a broad-based Russian effort to escalate in Ukraine,” Mr. Sullivan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” noting Russia’s long history of using cyberweapons against Ukraine’s power grid, government ministries and commercial firms."

The NYTimes reminded that the code appeared to have been deployed around the time that Russian diplomats, after three days of meetings with the United States and NATO over the massing of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, declared that the talks had essentially hit a dead end.

“All evidence indicates that Russia is behind the cyberattack,” the statement said. “Moscow continues to wage a hybrid war and is actively building up its forces in the information and cyberspaces.” But the ministry provided no evidence, and early attribution of attacks is frequently wrong or incomplete", the daily reported.

The new attack would wipe hard drives clean and destroy files. Some defense experts have said such an attack could be a prelude to a ground invasion by Russia. Others think it could substitute for an invasion, if the attackers believed a cyberstrike would not prompt the kind of financial and technological sanctions that Mr. Biden has vowed to impose in response.

John Hultquist, a leading cyberintelligence analyst at Mandiant, said on Sunday that his firm had been telling its clients “to prepare for destructive attacks, including attacks that are designed to resemble ransomware.”

He noted that the Russian hacking unit known as Sandworm, which has since been closely linked to the Russian military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., had spent recent years developing “more sophisticated means of critical infrastructure attack,” including in Ukraine’s power grid.

“They also perfected the fake ransomware attack,” Mr. Hultquist said, referring to attacks that are meant, at first, to look like a criminal extortion effort but are actually intended to destroy data or cripple an electric utility, a water or gas supply system, or a government ministry. “They were doing this before NotPetya, and they tried many times after.”
Source: The New York Times
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