Cyber threat grows after Russia SWIFT sanctions over Ukraine

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Following the recent sanctions imposed on Ukraine, cyber experts have warned of the growing risk of cyber-attacks from Russia – which has excluded large Russian banks from the SWIFT financial system.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened retaliation against the West for what he sees as interference in the country’s unprovoked attacks on its neighbor Ukraine. And as is well known, both the Russian government itself and its affiliated cybercriminal gang have significant cyber attack capabilities – and Russia has a history of using them in geopolitical contexts.

U.S. and UK authorities last week blamed Russia for a large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack in Ukraine. And fresh DDoS attacks, as well as devastating cyber attacks involving Viper malware, struck Ukraine on Wednesday, shortly before the invasion.

But so far, “I’m willing to bet that the Russians haven’t used a single bullet in their cyber arsenal,” Eric Byers, CTO of cyber firm Adolus Technology, said in an email.

Punish Putin

Today, a number of large Russian banks were removed from SWIFT in a move coordinated by the US and European Commission, as well as the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Canada.

SWIFT, meaning Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a messaging system that enables banks to interact with each other internationally. According to reports, the move inevitably prevents Russian banks from conducting international transactions.

The move is seen as a necessary step to punish Putin for his invasion of Ukraine – already responsible for at least hundreds of casualties, including Ukrainian citizens – but the move is likely to provoke a backlash against the West, including waves of cyber attacks. Earlier, the expulsion of Russian banks from SWIFT was described by some as a “last resort” and a “nuclear option”.

“Putin / Russia is falling apart completely and diplomatically,” wrote Dmitry Alperovich, co-founder of CrowdStrike and former CTO and Russian expat. Tweet Today

“The danger is that Putin has little to lose now. It’s in the corner. Could move fully on economic and cyber retaliation, “wrote Alperovich, now executive chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator Think Tank.

‘Shield up’

The expulsion from SWIFT is “a significant increase from the initial sanctions announced on Thursday,” Rick Holland, CISO of Digital Shadows, said in an email.

“Removing SWIFT significantly increases the risks of state-run or state-sponsored Russian cyber-attacks against the West,” Hollande said.

Prior to the announcement, he noted, ransomware groups, including Conte and CummingProject, had promised to help Russia in its efforts on Ukraine from a cyber perspective.

“If Russia promotes or promotes cybercriminal targets against Western companies, the level of risk increases dramatically,” Hollande said. “There is also a risk of a potential escalator spiral if the US retaliates against these attacks.”

Finally, “as the Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) says, we need a ‘shields up’ right now – because the level of cyber risk to the financial and energy sectors, in particular, is probably the highest in years,” he said. .

In the past, many in the West have speculated that Putin will stop having a full impact on Ukraine’s cyber capabilities in the West.

“I originally believed that Putin was a rational actor who did not want to launch major cyber-attacks in the US because he would provoke similar attacks in response,” Byrne said. “After all, his goal was to conquer Ukraine, not the US.”

However, “after reading the full translation of his speech on Tuesday, after reviewing the comments of a number of Russian political analysts and talking to cyber analysts about the known infiltration in the US, I am not so sure now,” Byrne said. “I’m concerned that Putin believes he’s bulletproof and that the US is weak.”

Putin has made it clear that the entire Western world is his enemy and that, according to Byres, all options are on the table.

Ukraine’s ‘IT Army’

Meanwhile, cyber efforts in Ukraine appeared to be moving further on Saturday. “We are building an IT army,” Mikhail Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister, announced on Twitter.

“We need digital talent,” he wrote Fedorov, Who also holds the title of Minister of Digital Transformation – shared a link to a telegram channel where he said operational tasks would be distributed. “We continue to fight on the cyber front.”

Anonymous is the most visible group promising a cyber attack against Russia on behalf of Ukraine, but some of the most sophisticated hacker groups are known to evade as much attention as possible – some of which are believed to be linked to the US and Western countries. .

On Friday, Christian Sorensen, a former U.S. cyber command officer, told VentureBeat that “hacktivists from around the world [will be] Working against Russia because they are aggressive. “

“I think things will move forward against Western targets, but Russia and Belarus will be targeted more by these groups,” Sorensen said, adding that the operational planning team was previously the lead for US Cyber ​​Command.

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