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Cyber Berkut & The Ukrainian Cyber War

As the Ukrainian Spring has escalated and boiled over with the Crimea vote for succession from the Ukraine, it's now clear these altercations are not only land-based. A group calling themselves the 'Cyber Berkut' have also gone digital to attack their opponents in cyberspace.

Russians vs.Ukraines & NATO

According to a Daily Mail report, an organized 'distributed denial of service' (DDoS) attack has allegedly been engaged by the Russians. Hackers bombarded Ukrainian websites with incoming requests causing them to slow down or crash in addition to hitting the NATO-affiliated cyber security center in Estonia.

'Berkut' references the feared and since disbanded riot squads that used to be deployed by the previous regime of ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. While lines are blurred as to culpability, it appears the attacks were launched by patriotic supporters of Ukraine's previous government and are pro-Russian sympathizers.

While the claims made as to the source are still unverified, the Cyber Berkut website have asserted its authenticity. John Bumgarner, chief technology officer at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a non-profit research institute, said this initial evidence strongly suggested that these cyber attacks were perpetrated by a pro-Russian contingency.

Ukraine's Return Volley

On the pro-Ukraine side, the German newspaper Deutsche-Welle, a Ukrainian group claimed responsibility for their own DDoS attacks on the cyberberkut.org website. Additional attacks also struck websites in Russia including the official website of the Kremlin.

Sites of the Central Bank of Russia and the foreign ministry were also attacked this past week, with at least one of those denial-of-service attacks exceeding capacity by more than 10 times.

Garry Kasparov, founder of Kasparov.ru and better known as one of the greatest chess players of all time is also an outspoken critic of Putin (aka 'Putler' in social media circles.) With over 89,000 likes on Facebook, Kasparov criticized Putin's intentions, when he wrote the following:

U.S. seen as 'Tag Team'

The U.S. has also entered into the fray. This came after Crimea reported a massive wave of hacker attacks on the websites linked to the ongoing referendum to annex Crimea to Russia.

“A new wave of a massive D-Dos attack hit our site at 1 o’clock pm last night,” the organizers of the Crimean referendum reported on March 18, 2014.

“Our IT safety experts managed to find out where those attacks came from. It is University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. The most powerful scanning of servers before the attack was carried out exactly from there.”

First Crimea, then. . .

Since the final results of the referendum on March 16th showed 97 percent of voters have supported leaving Ukraine to join Russia, these cyber volleys are thought to escalate with greater intensity in the weeks and months ahead.

While Putin promised on March 18th that Russia isn’t about to infiltrate the Ukraine with infantry troops, he has plenty of other tools to undermine the Western-backed Ukrainian government including beefing up this cyber war. Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Now it appears he's reverting to the digital weapons of the 21st Century. This strategic military move is a definite option for arming himself and his nation in a protracted war with enough ammunition - if not on the ground - definitely in cyberspace.

 

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Ron Callari
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