Estonia: 'High certainty' Russia behind cyberattacks on Ukraine, Viasat

Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Estonia has joined many other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, in attributing mass cyberattacks on a western satellite network which took place on February 24 to Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate, the GRU.

The attack, on the KA-SAT network operated by U.S. communications company Viasat, occurred on the same day that the Russian Federation commenced its invasion of Ukraine.

Estonian foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) says that it can be stated with high certainty that the GRU was behind the attacks, which are to be utterly condemned.

Liimets said that: "These cyberattacks run counter to international law and therefore, we are unequivocally condemning them."

"The timing of this attack, on February 24, when the wide-scale military attack against Ukraine began, is significant, and shows once again that cyberattacks are an integral part of how Russia wages war," the foreign minister added, according to a ministry press release.

Estonia is a long-standing partner and mentor for Ukraine in cybersecurity, cyber defense and cyber diplomacy, the foreign minister says, with development work on Ukraine's e-election infrastructure and its e-services are key examples of.

The current Russian aggression has not put an end to this cooperation, which continues.

British and American intelligence suggests that the GRU and the Russian Federation was behind the February 24 attacks, a suspicion long-held but which required verification, and the two countries have been joined by the EU in making an announcement to this effect.

While the attack targeted the KA-SAT network, which belongs to Viasat, Ukraine's military was the main target – the company provides high-speed satellite broadband to commercial and military customers.

Viasat, which provides broadband Internet access services across Europe, as well as the Saorsat TV service (Ireland) and also services to a small area of the Middle East, itself acknowledges the origins of the attacks on its network.

The February 24 attack began about an hour before the military invasion on the ground and caused outages for thousands of Ukrainian customers, as well as affecting internet users in central Europe

While so far, Russia has not launched wider attacks against western targets, one British intelligence official called the attack the most sustained offensive cyber operations one country has ever launched against another to date.

The GRU had launched cyber attacks against Ukraine during the build-up to the invasion also; on January 13, Ukrainian government websites were defaced, and attacks using the Whispergate malware took place in the same month.

Britain sanctioned the GRU back in 2017 following the novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury, which left its intended targets, the Skripal father and daughter dissidents, seriously ill, and killed a passer-by who retrieved a container which had held the nerve agent from a waste bin.

Estonia itself has seen Distributed Denial of Service (DdoS) attacks in recent weeks, including one on the foreign ministry itself, on Monday, May 9, and over a dozen state websites targeted between April 21 and April 25.

Finland's government has also recently experienced similar cyberattacks.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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