Ukraine says government websites hit by ‘massive cyber attack’

Ukraine said it was the target of a “massive cyber attack” after a handful of government websites ceased functioning on Friday.

“Ukrainians! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network,” a message temporarily posted on the foreign ministry’s website read. “All data on your computer is being erased and won’t be recoverable. All information about you has become public, fear and expect the worst.”

The incident follows tense negotiations this week between the US, Nato and western allies and Moscow aimed at deterring Russian president Vladimir Putin from opting for a deeper invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have recently warned that cyber attacks and other efforts to destabilise the country internally would probably be a prelude to further aggression.

Authorities have not blamed Russia or any other potential culprits for Friday’s attack on government websites and other services.

“As a result of a massive cyber attack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of other government agencies are temporarily down,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said. “Our specialists are already working on restoring the work of IT systems, and the cyber police opened an investigation.”

The message left by hackers, posted in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, added: “This is for your past, present and future. For Volyn, for the OUN UPA [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/Ukrainian Insurgent Army], for Halychyna, for Polissya and for historical lands.”

Comments at the end of the message referred to Ukrainian insurgent fighters during the second world war and appeared to chastise Ukraine for ethnic clashes and atrocities. Poland and Ukraine accuse each other of committing atrocities during the period in the region, which the countries have jostled over for centuries.

The hackers’ post also included defaced images of Ukraine’s national symbols, with a line across the flag, coat of arms and a map of the country.

It was not immediately clear if the hackers were Polish or if this was an attempt to incite divisions between Ukraine and Poland, one of Kyiv’s strongest European allies in the face of Russian aggression.

The EU’s political and security committee and cyber units will convene to see how to help Kyiv, said Josep Borrell, Brussels’ top diplomat.

“We are going to mobilise all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this cyber attack. Sadly, we knew it could happen,” Borrell was quoted as saying by Reuters at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brest, western France. “It’s difficult to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anybody as I have no proof, but we can imagine.”

Ukraine’s SBU state security service said in a statement that “provocative messages were posted on the main page of these sites”.

“The content of the sites was not changed, and the leakage of personal data, according to preliminary information, did not occur,” the SBU added.

Oleksiy Danylov, Ukraine’s national security chief, late last year told the Financial Times that Ukraine faced “continuous” Russian cyber attacks and other attempts to destabilise the country since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and orchestrated a proxy separatist war in its eastern regions.

“Domestic destabilisation is the immediate objective” of Russia prior to unleashing a potential deeper military incursion, he said, “firstly through cyber warfare, triggering an energy crisis and information warfare”.