UK organisations warned to brace for Russian cyber attacks

UK organisations are being urged to bolster their defences amid fears cyber attacks linked to the conflict in Ukraine could move beyond its borders, the BBC reports.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has issued new guidance, saying it is vital companies stay ahead of a potential threat, although saying it is currently unaware of any specific threats to UK organisations.

It follows a series of cyber attacks in Ukraine which are suspected to have involved Russia, which Moscow denies.

In December 2015, engineers in Ukrainian power stations saw cursors on their computer screens moving by themselves. They had been hacked. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power for hours.

It was the first time a power station had been taken offline, a sign that cyber intrusions were moving beyond stealing information into disrupting the infrastructure on which everyday life depends. Russia was blamed.

"It was a complex operation," says John Hultquist, an expert on Russian cyber operations at the US security firm Mandiant. "They even disrupted the telephone lines so that the engineers couldn't make calls."

Ukraine has been on the front line of a cyber conflict for years. But if Russia does invade the country soon, tanks and troops will still be at the forefront.

"If the aim is to conquer Ukraine, you don't do that with computers," says Ciaran Martin, who ran NCSC until 2020 - an arm of the UK's intelligence, security and cyber agency, GCHQ.

But cyber attacks are likely to support hard power, disrupting key services like power and communications to sow confusion. And even if the military conflict remains confined within Ukraine's borders, there are fears cyber attacks could spread.

In June 2017, Ukraine was the epicentre of an incident with global repercussions. Hackers got inside software used to file tax returns. Companies were then hit with ransomware - a demand they pay money to unlock their computers. Western governments would later say Russian military intelligence was responsible and that the real intent was not to profit but disrupt and blame it on criminals. Russia denied any role in this and other attacks.

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