Digital undersecretary: Russian cyberattacks strong but not invincible

Luukas Ilves.
Luukas Ilves. Source: ERR

Russian cyberattacks are effective but not invincible, Deputy Secretary General for Digital Development Luukas Ilves said on the ETV "Esimene stuudio" evening talk show.

Last Thursday evening marked the start of an extensive dedicated denial of service (DDos) attack aimed against Estonia's official websites that lasted for several days.

Luukas Ilves, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications undersecretary for digital affairs, said that the Russian attack was perpetrated by a group calling itself Killnet and was similar to what was done during the Bronze Night unrest 15 years ago. Ilves explained that the attackers' aim was to sow confusion and panic and possibly discredit the Estonian government.

Ilves said the attack concentrated on 13 websites with ties to the state apparatus. "Not all of them were government sites, while all were connected to offering important services one way or another," he said.

The undersecretary added that the attackers did not achieve their goals. "We have been preparing for just such attacks. Supplementary budgets from last year and more recently have allowed us to ramp up our defenses," he explained.

Ilves said that while similar DDoS attacks were used 15 years ago, they remain effective. He gave the example of similar attacks on Czech websites from a few days ago that managed to disrupt various services.

The Ukraine war has shown that while Russian cybercriminals are strong, they are not invincible, Ilves suggested, adding that Ukraine spent the six months leading up to the war preparing for cyberattacks. With help from the West, Ukraine went over its government and private sector services looking for Russian malware and vulnerabilities.

"As a result of this, vital services in Ukraine have been quite resilient in the face of Russian cyberattacks. But they [Russians] have managed to take down certain things using primitive DDoS attacks, as well as more sophisticated methods, including Ukraine's satellite communications during the first days of the war on which the country's armed force relied. It also hit many services and users in other parts of Europe," Ilves explained.

He added that cyberattacks have persisted throughout the war. But there have also been cyberattacks against Russia.

Ilves described it as surprising the West has largely been spared Russian cyberattacks recently, adding that the risk will be heightened for the next six to twelve months.

"The likely explanation is that Russian structures have been busy with the war in Ukraine. But once Russia is isolated from the financial system, transport system and economic ties, and once it no longer has reason to protect Western companies in Russia, attacks will inevitably be ramped up."

The ministry undersecretary said that Estonia and other Western countries are prepared for possible cyberattacks on May 9.

"I would say that Estonia has been targeted, while this is not unique and simply follows our NATO and EU membership. We must keep convincing our friends in Western Europe that they are every bit as much on the front lines of cyberwarfare as we are. They generally know this," Ilves remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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