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UK firms on cyber alert as Ukraine crisis grows

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The National Cyber Security Centre urged UK businesses to bolster their cyber resilience as the political and military situation worsens in Ukraine.

22nd Feb 2022
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The cyber warnings have been coming thick and fast as the crisis built towards Vladimir Putin’s televised set piece on Monday, in which he signed formal documents sending “peace-keeping” Russian troops into the eastern Ukraine provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

On the previous Thursday (18 Feb) the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reported that Russia was involved in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on Ukraine on 15-16 February.

Against this ominous backdrop, NCSC updated its guidance to UK companies in late January, urging them to bolster their cyber resilience.  

“Incidents of this nature are similar to a pattern of Russian behaviour seen before in previous situations, including the destructive NotPetya attack in 2017 and cyber attacks against Georgia,” the government security monitor noted. “The UK government has attributed responsibility for both these attacks to the Russian Government.”

While the NCSC had not identified any current specific threats to UK organisations arising from events in and around Ukraine, it encouraged organisations to take a number of steps to reduce the risk of falling victim to an attack. These included:

  • patching software systems
  • improving access controls and enabling multi-factor authentication
  • implementing incident response and business continuity plans
  • checking that backups and restore mechanisms are working
  • ensuring that online defences are working as expected, and; 
  • keeping up to date with the latest threat and mitigation information. 

“Effective cyber defence is a long game requiring sustained strategic investment, not a last-minute bolt on,” wrote Paul Kolbe, Maria Robson Morrow and Lauren Zabierek in a Harvard Business Review article on the escalating cybersecurity risks arising from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The article continued: “The first rule is that a cyber or IT problem quickly becomes a business problem. The primary step firms should be taking right now is pulling out, dusting off, and exercising business continuity plans. What would it mean to work in an analogue world, or a pencil-and-paper world, for days, weeks, or months?”

Cyberattacks can turn PCs into paperweights within a few seconds, leaving the organisation to wonder, “How am I going to track my inventory, manage my accounts, or communicate with my offices ad plants?” The threats can also extend to supply chains – both physical and software-related. “Your firm may face the risk of hidden dependence upon Ukrainian-based software engineers, code writers, or hosted services.”

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