Ahead of the Ukrainian presidential election scheduled for March 31, there is a looming concern over recent reports that prove a notable surge in hacking activity within the electoral-related stakeholders.
The cyber intelligence personnel who released the reports believe that there is a planned scheme to digitally compromise the credibility of the electoral process, as much of the hacking attempts are directed to electoral servers and electoral staff’s personal computers.
Authorities further claim that the attacks are all planned and orchestrated by Russian intelligence to favor their interest in the oncoming Ukrainian presidential elections.
The Nature of the Hacking Activity
Updates from the head of Ukraine’s cyber intelligence authority, Serhiy Demedyuk, allege that the hackers are infiltrating computer systems with simple, smart and hard-to-suspect incentives such as gift cards and software update offers.
All these are efforts to create vulnerabilities and back doors to facilitate for the coordination of large-scale phishing attacks designed to steal passwords and personal information from the electoral software systems of high-ranking election officials.
The hackers, in turn, sell these private credentials on the dark web through the secure and decentralized conduit of cryptocurrency in order to maintain anonymity.
Upon tracing the online crypto transactions, Demedyuk and his team say they have discovered that it is the same accounts responsible for previous attacks that were transacting for phished information in this current attack.
This has led them to deduce that it is the same Russian organization that was responsible for previous attacks.
The Kremlin has remained silent over these allegations.
The Case of NotPetya
This is all the more worrisome as it is happening just two years after the major cyberattack dubbed Petya/NotPetya ravaged the country in 2017, crippling government department agencies and infrastructure before spreading to global networks, resulting to the loss of billions of dollars.
The ransomware attack was believed to have started from an update from a Ukrainian tax accounting package called MeDoc.
Some of the countries that fell victim to the NotPetya attack include Poland, Germany, Italy, Australia and the United States.
Multinational companies affected by the cyberattack were shipping giant Maersk and British advertising company WPP.
Ukraine was the worst affected country, suffering an average of 80 percent of the damage caused, with Germany being a distant second with just 9 percent overall damage.
This information led experts to suspect that Ukraine was the main target of the attack.
Some reports claim that Kremlin is using its neighbor as a testing ground for its cyber weapons, knowing that there will be little to no retaliation from Kiev.
An interesting point to note about the history of Ukraine-targeted cyberattacks is that they happen on major Ukrainian holidays, as the NotPetya attack happened on June 28—the nation’s Constitution Day.
The Ripple Effect of Cyber Threats on International Relations
This incident has continued to intensify tension between Russia and Ukraine following a previous conflict over the annexation of Crimea by the Russian government.
This event has been subject to global contention on the part of Russia as most believe it is a violation of international law and bilateral treaties safeguarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The seizure has fomented conflict in eastern Ukraine, resulting in the death of more than 10,000 people in the ensuing war.
Most international organizations such as the United Nations have openly condemned the action by Russia to expropriate the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Russia has since come out to deny any involvement with the cyberattacks on Ukraine.
Ukraine is however convinced that Russia is behind it all and they have not stopped accusing them of instigating this cyber war.
A statement by the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, suggested that the Kremlin has the potential to disrupt the elections, but at this point, the intelligence authorities are yet to find any proof of the electoral system being hacked.