Russia vs Ukraine: How 'new type of espionage' could disrupt the UK – expert

Despite the Kremlin’s aggression on the border between the former Soviet Union allies, Russia is no stranger to a different, more subtle style of attack. It is believed Russia staged a cyberattack on key Ukrainian government websites in January, and experts believe there could be more to come as the potential conflict unfolds.

The Ukrainian digital transformation ministry said in a statement on Sunday: “All the evidence points to Russia being behind the cyber-attack.

“Moscow is continuing to wage a hybrid war.”

In response to the attack, the top White House official for cyber security has this week kicked off a tour of Europe’s NATO members to prepare for potential Russian attacks in cyberspace.

Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, will begin her tour in Brussels for meetings with NATO to “enhance national and alliance resilience in cyberspace, including deterring, disrupting, and responding to further Russian aggression against Ukraine, neighboring states, and in our respective countries”.

She said: “Our focus is on ensuring that the United States and our allies and partners are prepared for any cyber-related contingency and prepared to respond in the current environment.

“We will also discuss how we will coordinate and support Ukraine, and each other, in the event that cyberattacks occur.

“It will be crucial for the US and allies and partners to be united.”

US and European officials warn even if a military incursion doesn’t materialise, Russia could still inflict considerable damage on Ukraine’s stability through cyberattacks.

Senior US officials said: ”The Russians understand that disabling or destroying critical infrastructure – including power and communications – can augment pressure on a country’s government, military and population and accelerate their acceding to Russian objectives.”

Russia has been blamed for numerous cyber attacks in recent years, including one in Ukraine in 2015 that shit down power stations.

Depending on the next steps taken by Russia and NATO, it’s clear not only Ukraine will be in the firing line, even if any military conflict remains within Ukrainian borders.

Mr O’Neill said if any cyber-attacks are waged on the UK, it could add to already disruptive issues within the UK.

In the UK in recent weeks, critical national infrastructure – which includes energy and water supplies, transportation, health and telecommunications – have been warned by the National Cyber Security Centre about specific vulnerabilities known to be exploited by Russian hackers.

Based on experience in Ukraine, energy and transport are most likely to be in the cross-hairs if anything were to happen.

Mr O’Neill said: “Targets will likely to be in the commercial and industrial sectors for two reasons.

“First, the supply chain is already experiencing severe delays, with the UK being hit harder than other EU countries.

“So, a successful attack will not only be disruptive but could also provide a way into bigger infrastructures.

“Second, a cyberattack on companies essential to the economy, like financial institutions, would not only be a hit to UK business but also on the Government.

“With relatively limited effort, a single successful cyberattack on a key business or infrastructure target can have a disproportionate impact on the wider economy.”

“It’s not like the Cold War image of men on park benches, sat in raincoats and hats and hiding behind newspapers.

“Now, it’s a new type of espionage behind laptops, that is not only cheaper but arguably easier to achieve given the power we have at our fingertips.”