Ukrainian Elections: Cyber News Roundup from Russian-Language Press in Ukraine and Russia

In the run-up to the March 2019 Ukrainian Presidential Election, we will keep an eye on Ukrainian- and Russian-language news articles referencing reported cyber attacks that could affect political stability in Ukraine. Here are some translated highlights from recent Russian-language news articles from the Ukrainian and Russian press.

From the Ukrainian press:

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė announced that, as part of her country’s response to the Kerch Strait naval incident, Lithuania would provide assistance to Ukraine in the form of ammunition, military and cyber instructors, and humanitarian aid. “Sometimes it’s not so easy to be the first to introduce sanctions,” she noted.

A U.S. State Department official announced that the Russian government is actively trying to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs, including next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin was specifically named as behind these activities. Russia perceives Ukraine as vulnerable and is trying to undermine trust in its democratic institutions. The State Department has provided large-scale support to Ukraine, including for cyber defense.

The U.S. State Department has seen a high level of cyber activity in this conflict. “So, we work daily with the Ukrainian side to make Ukraine and its institutions more resistant to these [cyber] attacks,” said a State Department spokesman. The State Department called on European allies to be more active in the context of Russian aggression in the Kerch Strait area.

The leak of Facebook data, including the accounts and private messages of up to 120 million users, is advertised as up for sale for 12 million dollars (or 10 cents per profile). Ukraine was said to have 47K users affected, and Russia 12K. According to the BBC, Russian hackers may be responsible — or another nation purposely leaving a trail leading to Russia.

From the Russian press:

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in the wake of the Kerch Strait crisis, discussed future collaboration between Ukraine and NATO. Poroshenko said that he thanked NATO for its aid in the domain of cybersecurity, and that he was counting on a new project aimed at strengthening Ukrainian cyber defense prior to the upcoming election.

A “super-secret” British military unit, reportedly the 77th “cyber-operations” brigade, was said to have sent several groups of cyber “saboteurs” to Ukraine, which specialize in media monitoring, social networks, psychological operations, countering adversary information operations, reconnaissance, analysis, targeting, and non-violent methods of war. The effort is described as a type of “Fourth Generation” espionage. The author claims that the reason behind this activity is the coming Presidential Election in Ukraine, and states that, according to a recent Group-IB presentation by Ilya Sachkov, Western special services are engaged in computer hacking that is harmful to Russia and its citizens. The U.S., Britain, and Poland are said to be engaged in a “proxy war” in Ukraine.

President Poroshenko told the newly elected members of the Central Election Commission that Russia will actively intervene in the 2019 election campaign through disinformation and computer hacking. In May 2017, Russian hackers compromised the official website of the President of Ukraine, an attack that came after the expansion of sanctions against Russia and the start of a ban on Russian social media in Ukraine.

US Democratic Senator Chris Murphy is reported to have said that Russia enjoys certain information and cyber advantages in its conflict with Ukraine, and Ukrainian President Poroshenko is reported to have said in September that under martial law “there are no elections, no activities of political parties, no free press.”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense of Ukraine is actively attacking unfriendly media, with proof provided by sensitive documents obtained by hackers. The author states that documents signed personally by Poroshenko prove the existence of psychological operations designed to influence Facebook, Twitter, and television audiences, in part via “cyber-troops” and “hundreds of bots.” The article claims that this fits in as part of a long history of lack of freedom of speech in Ukraine.