Australia has described Russia’s cyberattacks on the Ukrainian government as ‘destructive, disruptive and destabilising’, condemning the wayward state alongside the US and European Union.
On Tuesday, Peter Dutton, Marise Payne and Karen Andrews issued a joint statement that disclosed government and private sector networks in Ukraine had been subject to destructive wiper malware since the start of January 2022.
According to intelligence sources, Russian military cyber operators launched a malware attack months before Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine. The attacks compromised networks related to emergency services, energy, transport and communications.
“We have previously publicly highlighted Russia’s mid-February distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against certain Ukrainian banking-related services,” Australia’s ministers for defence, foreign affairs and home affairs said.
Later that same month, the ministers said Australia and its international partners have determined further cyberattacks from Russia disabled very small aperture terminals (VSAT) in Ukraine and across Europe. Even private internet services used by ordinary citizens were affected.
Sources believe this was done with a view to scrambling communications networks as Putin ordered his military forces to illegally push into neighbouring territory.
“We assess that Russia launched cyberattacks in late February against commercial satellite communications networks to disrupt Ukrainian command and control during the invasion and those actions had spill-over impacts in other European countries,” the statement read.
“This included tens of thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine that, among other things, support wind turbines and provide internet services to private citizens.”
Seventy-six days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s troops have advanced to the border between Donetsk and Luhansk (known as the Donbas) in the eastern part of the country. The only maritime route for Ukraine, in the Black Sea, is dominated by the Russian Navy, and fierce fighting over small villages across the country sees territorial gains by invading forces last only a short while.
“The Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here,” Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier testified to a Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Tuesday.
The Australian ministers said Russia’s cyberattacks were further evidence of ‘indiscriminate cyber operations’ and showed a blatant disregard for negative consequences to the public and commercial interests. They added any state responsible for cyber activities which were detrimental to international peace and stability contrary to the international framework would be held to account.
“Australia is committed to imposing costs on state-based or state-sponsored malicious actors who seek to undermine an open, free, safe and secure cyberspace,” they said.