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The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and a U.K. government agency today attributed this week’s distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in Ukraine to Russia, as tensions escalated in the region.

The DDoS attacks against military and financial institutions in Ukraine on Tuesday were the “largest” in the country’s history, according to the Ukrainian government. The attacks affected targets including the websites of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as the web services of Privatbank, Oschadbank, and Monobank.

On Wednesday, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) said preliminary information suggested that in the DDoS attacks, “Russian special services may be involved.”

‘Russia was responsible’

Today, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, Anne Neuberger, said at the White House that intelligence suggests that Russia’s intelligence directorate, known as GRU, was behind the attacks.

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“We have assessed that Russia was responsible for the DDoS attacks that occurred earlier this week,” Neuberger said, according to a report in The Hill.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office reported that based on a technical analysis, the GRU is believed to have been involved in the DDoS attacks against targets in Ukraine this week.

“The Government today attributed the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the Ukrainian banking sector on 15 and 16 February 2022 to have involved the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU),” the agency said in a post.

A spokesperson for the Kremlin denied Russian involvement in the DDoS attacks earlier this week.

Cyber warfare tactics?

DDoS attacks typically attempt to bring down websites or networks by overwhelming servers with traffic.

Concerning the attacks, this week, the main purpose was “to sow panic among Ukrainians and destabilize the situation in the country,” a Ukrainian government agency said in a statement earlier this week. “In fact, it was a large-scale stress test that Ukraine withstood.”

The attacks began with “fake texts sent en masse about disruptions in the functioning of banks,” the Centre for Strategic Communication, a non-governmental organization in Ukraine, said in a post.

Because of the texts, “Ukrainians rushed to check bank applications or withdraw money at ATMs,” the organization said in the post. “This effectively increased the power of the attack, creating an additional load on the systems. Which, in turn, helped the aggressor implement its plans.”

Cybersecurity experts say that if Russia does plan to invade Ukraine, it would undoubtedly use cyberattacks as a key part of its strategy — just as the country has done in previous military campaigns over the past decade-and-a-half, including in Georgia and the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

In January, Ukraine blamed Russia for attacks that left dozens of the government’s websites inaccessible or defaced.

Experts have also said that cyberattacks could be carried out against targets in western countries, including the U.S. in connection with the Ukraine situation. On Tuesday, Biden said that “if Russia attacks the United States or allies through asymmetric means, like disruptive cyberattacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond.”

Tensions escalate

The attribution of this week’s Ukraine DDoS attacks to Russia came as the tensions around the Ukraine crisis continued to rise on Friday, with the U.S. saying that Russia has now amassed 190,000 troops near the borders of Ukraine — up from 100,000 in late January.

On Friday, Russian-backed leaders in eastern Ukraine issued orders for residents to evacuate to Russia, and Ukraine said that Russia has attempted to stage a crisis in eastern Ukraine as grounds for an invasion.

“We categorically refute Russian disinformation reports on Ukraine’s alleged offensive operations or acts of sabotage in chemical production facilities,” said Dmytro Kuleba, minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine, on Twitter.

In remarks Friday at the White House, Biden said he’s “convinced” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, citing U.S. intelligence. “As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” Biden said.

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