Russia’s cyber capabilities were significantly overvalued, according to Mykhailo Fedorov, the vice-prime minister and digital transformation minister of Ukraine, who opened the 2022 Paris Cyber Summit on Wednesday (11 May).
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the West feared a hybrid attack both online and offline, yet Moscow has failed to register any significant victories on the internet.
“No real Russian victory in cyberattacks against critical entities can be reported since the start of the war,” Fedorov said at a press conference, adding that Ukraine’s cyber strategy is to protect critical entities, whose destruction would be disastrous.
In the early days of the war, it was clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be much more complex and lengthy than expected. But also in the cybersphere, Ukraine has proven well prepared and fast to learn.
“The difference between them and us is that we use cyberspace to create, Russia uses it to destroy,” Fedorov said. He also emphasised the importance of collaboration with other countries, adding Ukraine is very grateful for this support.
In Romania, for instance, Bitdefender is providing technical consulting, threat intelligence, and cybersecurity technology for people and organisations in Ukraine free of charge.
One day before the cyber conference, the G7 Digital Ministers met in Düsseldorf to discuss the future of digitalisation, with a thematic focus on cybersecurity.
In a press statement, they emphasised they would continue their support of Ukraine in the defence of their networks against cyber incidents. Fedorov was also invited to join the G7 meetings in Düsseldorf, as Ukraine was high on the agenda.
Of course, this does not mean Ukraine has not been targeted non-stop by Russian operations, even many years before the war.
The CyberPeace Institute has created a timeline since 24 February, outlining the numerous reported cyberattacks against Ukrainian institutions and organisations, including humanitarian NGOs and citizens.
Using cybersphere to help citizens
Apart from defending Ukraine from cyber attacks, Fedorov also explained how they are using different digital tools to help citizens during the war.
“Every week, we want to offer a new service to our citizens,” Fedorov said.
The government can assist its citizens quickly via the Diia App, which allows Ukrainians to use digital documents on their smartphones for identification and sharing purposes—for example, sending online payments to people whose houses got bombarded. According to Fedorov, about 17 million people are currently using this application.
Also, chatbots are used to share information on the whereabouts of Russian troops.
There are also several systems and international ways of support that the vice-prime minister chose not to talk about, as it could be “counterproductive” for Ukraine’s defence at this delicate time.
However, after the war, according to Fedorov, there will be many opportunities to talk about what has been learned and shared and what can be improved to reinforce the country’s cyber defence.
He also pointed out the importance of interactions and collaborations with big tech companies, notably Google and Apple.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Alice Taylor]