Coinciding with relentless cyberattacks on Ukraine, Russian state-backed hackers engaged in ‘strategic espionage’ against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv , Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.
“Since the start of the war, Russian targeting (of Ukraine’s allies) has been successful 29% of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrotewith stolen data in at least a quarter of successful network intrusions.
“As a coalition of countries have come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have intensified network penetration and espionage activity targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said. .
Nearly two-thirds of cyber espionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the main target and Poland, the main channel for delivering military aid to Ukraine, was the second. Over the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen their targeting intensified.
A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it detected no Russians computer science intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The society credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it is easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” in some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.
Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are non-government agencies, usually think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.
Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “proved stronger overall” than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyberattacks against 48 separate Ukrainian agencies and businesses.” Moscow army hackers were careful not to release data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report noted.
“Over the past month, as the Russian military has decided to concentrate its attacks in the Donbass region, the number of destructive attacks has decreased,” according to the report titled Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from Cyber Warfare. The Redmond, Washington-based company has a unique view of the field due to its ubiquitous threat detection software and teams.
Microsoft said Ukraine has also set an example when it comes to data protection. Ukraine went from storing its data locally on servers in government buildings a week before the Russian invasion – making it vulnerable to air attacks – to dispersing that data in the cloud, housed in data centers in across Europe.
The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russian military war crimes” and courting people in non-aligned countries.
using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, it estimated that “Russian cyber influence operations succeeded in increasing the spread of Russian propaganda after the start of the war by 216% in Ukraine and 82% in the United States”.
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