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US Offers Support After Ukraine Hit By Massive Cyberattack

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(RFE/RL) — The United States has offered to provide Ukraine “whatever help it needs to recover” from a massive cyberattack that Kyiv has said appears to have links to hacker groups associated with Russian intelligence services.

The cyberattack, which targeted several Ukrainian government websites on January 14, came amid increased tensions between the West and Russia, which has massed troops and military equipment near the border with Ukraine.

The news was first reported early on January 14 by Ukraine’s Education and Science Ministry on its Facebook page. Kyiv later said the cyberattack, which took place on the night of January 13-14, had not changed the content of any of the government websites targeted and that no personal data had been leaked.

Ukraine’s Security Service said in a statement late on January 14 that its criminal investigation revealed some signs of the involvement of “hacker groups associated with the special services of the Russian Federation.”

The Culture and Information Policy Ministry had earlier said that “initial data” indicated that the attack originated in Russia. The ministry added that its experts had suggested that the attack might be related to the failure of recent talks between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s troop buildup, as well as the Kremlin’s demands that NATO not admit any former Soviet states, such as Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said on January 14.

“We will provide Ukraine with whatever support it needs to recover,” the spokesperson said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg “strongly condemned” the attack and said that cyberexperts from member countries were exchanging information with and “supporting the Ukrainian authorities on the ground.”

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, also condemned the attack and said the EU’s political and security committee and cyberunits would meet to see how to respond and help Kyiv.

In a statement, Ukraine’s government said that a number of other state websites had been suspended to prevent the attack from spreading, though most of the affected state resources had already been restored.

During the cyberattack, a message appeared on the website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry written in Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish, warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst.”

On some of the websites, a text appeared in the same three languages saying all data of Ukrainians uploaded to the network had become public.

“We are going to mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this cyberattack. Sadly, we knew it could happen,” Borrell told reporters at an EU foreign ministers meeting in the western French port city of Brest. “It’s difficult to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anybody as I have no proof, but we can imagine.”

Stoltenberg said NATO and Ukraine would strengthen cybercooperation in the coming days.

“NATO and Ukraine will sign an agreement on enhanced cybercooperation, including Ukrainian access to NATO’s malware information-sharing platform. NATO’s strong political and practical support for Ukraine will continue,” Stoltenberg said.

No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but Russian hackers linked to Moscow have repeatedly been blamed for cyberattacks on Ukrainian government websites and infrastructure in the past.

The West has accused Russia of deploying tanks, artillery and about 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s war-torn eastern border in recent weeks, in what NATO says is preparation for an invasion.

Moscow says it has no plans to invade Ukraine.

In December, Russia unveiled proposals to contain the United States and NATO in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, saying that the US-led alliance should not admit Ukraine or Georgia as new members.

This week the United States and its NATO allies held talks with Russia in an attempt to ease tensions, but all three rounds of negotiations — in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna — failed to make significant progress.

On January 13, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow saw no reason to hold a new round of security talks with the West following a lack of progress.

In October 2020, the United States charged six Russians with carrying out cyberattacks on Ukraine’s power grid, the 2017 French elections, and the 2018 Winter Olympics.

At the time, the U.S. Justice Department said the six were current or former members of the GRU — Russian military intelligence — and were also accused of staging a malware attack called “NotPetya,” which infected computers of businesses worldwide causing nearly $1 billion in losses.

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RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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