Ukraine says Russia is attacking digital infrastructure

In a press statement on Tuesday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, the head of Ukraine's SBU security service, told reporters that the country's mobile and Internet infrastructure is under attack by Russian forces.

In a press statement on Tuesday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, the head of Ukraine's SBU security service, told reporters that the country's mobile and Internet infrastructure is under attack by Russian forces.

According to his statement, the source of the mobile jamming is Ukrtelecom in Crimea, where Russian forces are using "installed equipment that blocks my phone as well as the phones of other deputies, regardless of their political affiliation."

In addition to the mobile problems, the AFP is reporting that Internet connections between the Crimea peninsula and the rest of the Ukraine have been severed, and that armed commandos reportedly cut off power lines at the Ukrainian Navy HQ.

The Ukrainian government website, www.kmu.gov.ua, was knocked offline for nearly 72 hours, returning for a short time on on Monday, before going dark again. As of Tuesday afternoon, the domain failed to resolve properly.

Targeting digital infrastructure, such as mobile communications and Internet connections, is nothing new for Russia. Such actions would mark the first steps to a communications blockade, but they haven't been fully successful, since live news from the region has flooded the Internet from citizens with first-hand knowledge of the situation.

That won't stop Russia however. Such initiatives are part of a system that's been proven effective. While they denied any connection to the events, placing the blame on patriotic hackers, the world and a majority of the security community believe the Russian government was responsible for the massive digitized attacks on Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008.

In both cases, the takedown of the digital infrastructure helped physical operations, and shortened hostilities to a matter of days. The attacks blocked communications from the media and government, Internet access to citizens, in disabled ATMs in Estonia – adding a financial burden to an already bad situation. Russia's FSB has declined to comment on recent developments.

In a report from Reuters, experts said that while Russia has the ability to use its vast digital arsenal against the Ukraine, they haven't needed to push things that far.

From the report:

"This would show the Russians acting with more discretion and targeting than recently," said John Bassett, former head of the London and Washington stations of GCHQ, Britain's top secret government communications center.

"This wouldn't expose any great depth of their technological capability and they would be keeping the harder stuff back," said Bassett, now associate at Oxford University's Cyber Security Center.

"Marty Martin, a former senior operations officer with the CIA, said Moscow likely would only take action to damage Ukraine's Internet and internal communications systems if hostilities broke out."

In the U.S., the White House issued a statement saying that they are monitoring the situation, and that they expected all parties to "abide by recognized international normal that apply online as well as offline."

Jason Healey, the director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said that the U.S. Cyber Command should be brought into play if Russia starts to get carried away.

"Western leaders ought to specifically include cyber disruption in their warnings to the Kremlin. Simple disruptions to webpages or mild denial of service attacks can be overlooked as blowing off nationalist steam, but major disruptions to government services or critical infrastructure must be considered as crossing a line...

"The U.S. president, NATO secretary general and European leaders could call Putin to warn that they are not fooled by his use of nationalist proxies and will hold him to account. Since warnings won't sway Putin, they should be backed with harder options. The US Department of Defense could order its muscular Cyber Command to prepare to disrupt the attacks if asked to do so by Ukraine’s government."

The situation is developing, the most recent news is that Russia has said military action would come as a last resort, but questions related to digitally-based attacks were not answered.

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