Ukraine’s Election Period Begins: A Cybersecurity Overview

On December 26, 2018, at the meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, President Poroshenko announced the end of martial law and confirmed that the presidential election will be held as scheduled. According to Ukrainian legislation, the presidential elections in the country are held on the last Sunday of March for the fifth year of the powers of the current head of the state – March 31, 2019. Campaigns shall commence no later than December 30, 2018.

To protect the elections, on November 22, 2018, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the bill No. 8496 “On ensuring the protection of information in the Central Election Commision (CEC) information resources,” that makes changes in the state budget for 2018, spending 83.22 million hryvnias (about $3M) to improve the security of information systems and to create the cyber security unit of the CEC. Ukraine is undoubtedly in a much better situation now than in 2014.  Western countries and international organizations have announced their intention to help Ukraine protect presidential and parliamentary elections from Russian cyberattacks as well. But beyond the possibility of hacking and penetrating the computer system of the CEC, there are several other key risks in the cyber domain.

The first potential target in the cyber domain may involve hacking and leaking the emails of leading pro-Western candidates. President Poroshenko may also be a target, but his email is likely well-protected with the tools and measures of the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine.

A second potential target may involve a cyber attack that could disrupt critical infrastructure and the resources of state organizations. A foreign actor may employ a cyber weapon aimed at achieving the following in order to politically damage current President Poroshenko: blocking the work of state agencies making it impossible to provide online public services, sowing chaos, and highlighting the helplessness of the current government.

This election marks a critical moment for both Ukraine and Russia. The outcome will be widely scrutinized for signs of Ukrainians’ desires to integrate more closely with the EU and NATO or Russia