According to Microsoft, at least six Kremlin-backed hacking groups have been attacking Ukraine in the digital space in an onslaught that began before the invasion in late February. The company counted more than 237 cyberattack operations against Ukrainian systems and critical infrastructure.
These attacks involve destructive malware that “threaten civilian welfare”, accompanied by intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.
“Russia’s use of cyberattacks appears to be strongly correlated and sometimes directly timed with its kinetic military operations targeting services and institutions crucial for civilians,” Microsoft said. The company gave several examples to illustrate this correlation: “While Russian forces besieged the city of Mariupol, Ukrainians began receiving an email from a Russian actor masquerading as a Mariupol resident, falsely accusing Ukraine’s government of ‘abandoning’ Ukrainian citizens.”
Russia was seen using various techniques in its attack to gain initial access. This includes phishing campaigns, vulnerability exploitation, and compromising upstream IT services. The country is also not shy about using wiper malware—destructive malware CISA (the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) highlighted in an updated alert initially released in late February.
Microsoft believes that Russian cyberattacks will continue to escalate. Nation-state threat actors may also expand their destructive attacks outside Ukraine to retaliate against countries helping Ukraine or continuing to inflict punitive measures against Russia.
“We’ve observed Russian-aligned actors active in Ukraine show interest in or conduct operations against organizations in the Baltics and Turkey—all NATO member states actively providing political, humanitarian or military support to Ukraine.”
You can read more about Russian cyberattack activities against Ukraine in Microsoft’s Special Report: Ukraine.