World Bulletin/News Desk
Ukraine's telecommunications system has come under attack, with equipment installed in Russian-controlled Crimea used to interfere with the mobile phones of members of parliament, the head of Ukraine's SBU security service said on Tuesday.
Some Internet and telephone services were severed after Russian forces seized control of airfields and key installations in Ukraine's Crimea region on Friday, but now lawmakers were being targeted, Valentyn Nalivaichenko told a news briefing.
"At the entrance to (telecoms firm) Ukrtelecom in Crimea, illegally and in violation of all commercial contracts, was installed equipment that blocks my phone as well as the phones of other deputies, regardless of their political affiliation," he said.
The Ukrainian security chief did not say whether the new issues were linked to the earlier raid or a separate tampering incident. Ukrtelecom said it was working on a response to questions from Reuters about Nalivaichenko's remarks.
The main Ukrainian government website, www.kmu.gov.ua, was offline for about 72 hours after Russian forces seized control of the peninsula, but went back up early on Monday, said John Bumgarner, chief technology officer for the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit.
Bumgarner, whose firm advises companies and government agencies on how to fend off cyber attacks, said, he is not sure that the site went down as a result of a cyber attack. Still, he said he believes Moscow has the ability to cause major disruptions using cyber operations.
Estonia suffered a 10-day attack on its internet services in 2007, which caused major disruptions to its financial system, during a spat with Moscow over a Soviet-era war memorial, and Georgia was hit by mass cyber attacks during a brief 2008 war with Russia over its pro-Moscow South Ossetia region.
Russian authorities denied direct involvement in both attacks, saying they had no influence over the actions of self-styled patriotic hackers.
RUSSIA HOLDING BACK?
Much of Ukraine's telecommunications infrastructure was built when it was part of the Soviet Union, along with what is now the Russian Federation, and is particularly vulnerable to penetration by Moscow.
"The Russians have the place completely wired," said Jim Lewis, a former U.S. foreign service officer and now senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"They are right next door and most traffic has to go through Russia. That they haven't done more probably reflects their confidence that they're going to come out ahead and there's nothing anyone can do about it," Lewis said.
"This would show the Russians acting with more discretion and targeting than recently," said John Bassett, former head of the London and Washington stations of GCHQ, Britain's top secret government communications centre.
"This wouldn't expose any great depth of their technological capability and they would be keeping the harder stuff back," said Bassett, now associate at Oxford University's Cyber Security Centre.
"A lot of times you don't want to shut things down. If you do that, then you don't get your flow of intelligence. You are probably better off monitoring it," Martin said.
Experts believe Russia was behind the hacking of a confidential phone conversation between senior U.S. State Department official Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, which was leaked over YouTube last month.
"Russia's strategy is control the narrative, discredit opponents, and coerce," Lewis said.