CLEVELAND (AP) — Coinciding with a relentless cyberattack against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers targeted governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in the 42 countries that support Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday. “Strategic espionage” was carried out.
“Russia has had a 29 percent target success rate (against Ukrainian allies) since the war began,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote of at least a quarter of successful cyber intrusions , data theft,
Nearly two-thirds of cyber espionage targets involve NATO members. The U.S. was the main target, and Poland, the main channel for military aid to Ukraine, came in second. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have strengthened their targets,
One notable exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it had not detected a Russian cyber intrusion since the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The company credits Estonia for adopting cloud computing, where intruders are easier to detect. Among other European governments, “significant collective defense weaknesses remain,” Microsoft said, without specifying them.
According to the 28-page report, half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12 percent are non-government agencies, usually think tanks or humanitarian groups. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.
Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “have proven” overall to be more capable than Russia’s “waves of disruptive cyberattacks against 48 different Ukrainian institutions and businesses.” Military hackers in Moscow have been careful not to unleash a devastating data-destroying worm that could spread outside Ukraine, as in 2017’s NotPetya virus, the report noted.
“In the past month, the number of destructive attacks has declined as Russian forces have focused their attacks on the Donbas region,” the report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from Cyber Warfare”. Thanks to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams, the Redmond, Washington-based company has unique insight in this area.
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 them vulnerable to airstrikes — to dispersing it in the cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.
The report also assesses Russia’s disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russia’s military war crimes” and attracting people in non-aligned countries.
Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said it estimated that “Russian cyber-influence operations successfully expanded Russian propaganda by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”
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