Fabian Eberhardt and Simon Marty
While the bombs are falling in Ukraine, another war is brewing in Europe. It is a silent war on the internet. Russian hacker gangs attack Western governments and critical infrastructure across the continent.
Cyber attacks have intensified in recent weeks. All pro-Ukraine countries, including Switzerland, are in their sights. SonntagsBlick Research Shows: Pro-Russian Hackers Attack Foreign Affairs Department (EDA) This emerges from a confidential situation report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (NDB) on June 24.
Attack attempts through phishing emails
Hackers used so-called phishing emails to attack Switzerland. Cybercriminals use fake messages to pose as trusted communication partners with the aim of obtaining sensitive data. However, according to the situation report, the emails are authenticated and harmless.
It’s unclear exactly what the hackers did. Is it a commercially motivated scam or espionage? In a general assessment, the FIS situation report writes: “After successfully penetrating a computer system for espionage purposes, this access can also be used for sabotage (especially data deletion).”
Faced with a phishing attack on FDFA, the central government blocked it. “For security reasons, the FDFA is not releasing any details about the attempted attacks,” says State Department spokesman Andreas Heller.
Increased cyber threats
At the National Center for Cyber Security (NCSC), they don’t want to know about a “qualified” attack. Spokesperson Manuela Sonderegar: “Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the NCSC has not observed any targeted cyber attacks against the federal government that were clearly linked to the context of the conflict.” The fact that the FIS explicitly mentions the phishing attack in its classified report in the context of Russian cyber-espionage against pro-Ukraine governments does not change the answer.
Finally, the intelligence community assures that the situation is being closely monitored. According to spokeswoman Isabel Graber, the war in Ukraine has so far “not directly” led to an increase in cyber attacks in Switzerland. But she admits: “The cyber threat has increased.”
The topic is sensitive – and the timing is even more sensitive. Top politicians from around the world travel to Lugano TI on Monday. The Ukraine Reconstruction Conference is held there. The Kremlin must be very curious to know what Ukraine’s Western friends are talking about behind the scenes.
Government and private hackers work together
Last week, the Central Intelligence Agency released its annual activity report. In it he characterizes cyber espionage against Switzerland as “highly probable” as a result of the war in Ukraine. “Malware flies faster than rockets,” FIS writes.
It is often difficult to clearly assign cyber attacks to the sender. In case of attacks from Russia, public and private teachers are blurring. The Kremlin is increasingly working with criminal hacker gangs. A more recent example: the Gilnet group, the Russian equivalent of Anonymous.
Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States, classifies the group as an online criminal operating primarily for financial reasons, but may occasionally be used for Russian government interests.
Attack on many countries
In the past few weeks, Guilnet has attacked several countries in Western Europe. The attack on Lithuania, where the group froze officials and institutions, caused a stir. On the messaging service Telegram, Gilnet bragged about the attack and threatened more attacks. This is due to Lithuania’s acceptance of EU sanctions and restrictions on the transport of goods such as steel to the Russian border in Kaliningrad.
Killnet is on the radar of Swiss intelligence. In his Secret Situation Report he mentions the Russian group. In Telegram, according to FIS, Kilnet thanks Lithuania for supporting cyber attacks on its infrastructure.
It is unclear whether Putin’s hackers are also behind the attacks on the central government. However, it is certain that they will strike again soon – somewhere in Europe.
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