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New Warnings from Ukraine About Looming Russian Cyberattacks

FILE - A Joint Cybersecurity Advisory published by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency about destructive malware that is targeting organizations in Ukraine is photographed, Feb. 28, 2022.
FILE - A Joint Cybersecurity Advisory published by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency about destructive malware that is targeting organizations in Ukraine is photographed, Feb. 28, 2022.

Ukraine is again urging its companies and private organizations to immediately bolster their cybersecurity ahead of what could be a new wave of Russian attacks.

The Ukrainian government's Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) published new recommendations Thursday, warning that its experts had identified software vulnerabilities that could allow Russian cyber actors to get deep inside a computer network.

The advisory further warned that the vulnerabilities could allow Russia to launch a renewed series of targeted cyberattacks on Ukraine aimed at disabling communication and information systems or designed to compromise and alter the information being processed.

"The risk of new attacks remains very high," Volodymyr Kondrashov, a spokesman for Ukraine's State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, said in a statement, adding that for security purposes, "every single PC, every smartphone and every security circuit of a company or organization" should be viewed as part of the country's border.

Earlier this week, Ukraine's military intelligence agency formally warned that Moscow is planning to launch cyberattacks aimed, in combination with missiles strikes, at crippling Ukraine's energy sector.

Monday's statement followed warnings issued by top Ukrainian cyber officials earlier this month that Russia was looking to use cyberattacks to target critical infrastructure, and Ukraine's energy and financial sectors in particular.

"We saw this scenario before," Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation Georgii Dubynskyi told reporters on the sidelines of a cybersecurity conference in Washington. "They [Russia] are trying to find a way how to undermine, how to defeat our energy system and how to make circumstances even more severe for Ukrainians."

Dubynskyi also said Russia appeared to be developing cyberweapons that could be deployed not only against Ukraine but also against countries supporting Kyiv.

Despite Ukraine's warnings, several key U.S. officials have been more cautious in their assessments.

"Do we have particular indications of an increase in that way at this time? We don't," Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber Anne Neuberger told VOA last week.

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But she added that Russia's use of cyberattacks has been "a consistent part of Russia's war effort in Ukraine, so it's something we expect."

Moscow has consistently denied involvement in offensive cyberattacks, including some that targeted Ukraine on the eve of the Russian invasion.

U.S. military officials, however, have noted Russia's increasing willingness to target Ukrainian infrastructure, including power generation stations, with what one senior official described as "precision strikes."

Whether Russia is prepared to ramp up its cyber offensive in Ukraine and beyond, though, remains unclear.

"We don't know exactly where they [Russia] may go in the future in terms of this conflict," U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Executive Director Brandon Wales told a forum in Washington on Thursday.

"Russia is behaving in a way in both the physical and cyber realms that are incredibly destructive," he said. "We need to be prepared for whatever they do next."

U.S. Representative Jim Langevin, a Democrat who has long been outspoken on issues related to cybersecurity, agreed.

"I'm not naive to think that Russia doesn't have strong cyber capabilities," he told the same conference. "We could see more effective or offensive cyber operations on their part going forward."

Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.