Adopt ‘heightened’ vigilance on reports of Russia-linked hacks over Ukraine aid: CSE centre

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WATCH: Russia says tank deliveries to Ukraine 'direct involvement' by West in conflict – Jan 26, 2023

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is warning Canadian defence and critical infrastructure providers to “adopt a heightened state of vigilance” amid reports of Russian-linked cyber attacks targeting governments supporting Ukraine, Global News has learned.

“The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is aware of reporting regarding an increase in Russian state-aligned hacktivist groups seeking to compromise, or disrupt Ukrainian-aligned allies, in response to their continued support of the Government of Ukraine,” a spokesperson for the Communications Security Establishment said in a statement Thursday evening.

“The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Cyber Centre), part of the CSE, is reminding the Canadian cyber security community — especially critical infrastructure and defence industry network defenders — to adopt a heightened state of vigilance, and to bolster their awareness of and protection against malicious cyber threats.”

In particular, the cyber agency is warning Canadian organizations to be on their guard given reports of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

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The Cyber Centre sent a technical alert about the reported attacks to critical partners on Thursday afternoon, Global News has learned.

Read more: Russia unleashes missiles on Kyiv after Ukraine secures western tanks

The move comes as Russian hackers appear to be targeting Western governments who agreed to supply tanks to Ukraine this week — a move Moscow has publicly stated would be viewed as an escalation of the conflict.

Russian activist hackers knocked several German websites offline on Wednesday in what is widely perceived as a response to Berlin’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine.

The German government had been blocking Western allied efforts to send Leopard 2 tanks supplied by Germany, finally standing down after some countries vowed to go ahead with shipments even if their requests were denied.

On Thursday, Canada said it would be sending four of its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Hacking group Killnet said it was targeting government websites, banks and airports with a coordinated DDoS campaign, a relatively unsophisticated attack which works by directing high volumes of internet traffic towards targeted servers in order to knock them offline.

Read more: Canada, allies warn of Russian cyberattacks on critical infrastructure due to Ukraine war

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Germany’s BSI cyber agency said the digital blitz had little tangible effect, though some websites were not accessible. Some financial sector targets had also been affected, the BSI’s statement added.

Killnet is a self-proclaimed Russian “hacktivist” group that has actively targeted opponents of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In June, the group claimed responsibility for a DDoS attack against the Lithuanian government after the Baltic country blocked the flow of goods to the Russian region of Kaliningrad.

The Cyber Centre and other Western cybersecurity agencies have warned about potential Russian cyber attacks targeting critical infrastructure throughout Russia’s 11-month-long invasion of Ukraine.

Just over a month before the invasion began on Feb. 24, Global Affairs Canada suffered what it called a “cyber incident” that sources told Global News may have been conducted by Russia or Russian-backed hackers. The incident disrupted the agency’s network for days.

Click to play video: 'Russia suspected of cyberattack on Global Affairs Canada'
Russia suspected of cyberattack on Global Affairs Canada

Canada was a vocal supporter of Ukraine in the weeks-long runup to the war and had just announced a $120 million loan to the Ukrainian government days before the cyberattack was reported, as well as re-committing Canadian soldiers to train Kyiv’s security forces.

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Canada has since provided over $5 billion in military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine over the course of the war, according to the federal government.

Western officials say the Russian government is a global leader in hacking and uses cyber-espionage against foreign governments and industries to seek a competitive advantage. However, Moscow has consistently denied that it carries out hacking operations.

“We are not aware of what (Killnet) is. We honestly wonder why any group of hackers is associated with Russia and not with some other European country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a routine briefing on Wednesday.

— with files from Reuters

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