Ukraine weighs whether Russian cyberattacks could fall under war crimes

Ukraine is considering whether recent Russian cyberattacks targeting its critical infrastructure could fall under war crimes, a top Ukrainian cyber official told Politico.

Victor Zhora, Ukraine’s chief digital transformation officer, argued that since Russia used cyberattacks to support its kinetic military operations against Ukraine, the digital attacks should also be considered as war crimes against its citizens.

“When we observe the situation in cyberspace we notice some coordination between kinetic strikes and cyberattacks, and since the majority of kinetic attacks are organized against civilians — being a direct act of war crime — supportive actions in cyber can be considered as war crimes,” Zhora said.

He cited last year’s Russian attacks against Ukraine’s largest private energy investor DTEK as an example of when cyberattacks are used in conjunction with kinetic warfare.

“Their thermal power plant was shelled, and simultaneously, their corporate network was attacked,” Zhora said. “It’s directed and planned activity from Russians, which they did both in conventional domain and in cyber domain.”

Zhora also told Politico that Ukraine is collecting evidence of cyberattacks tied to military operations and are sharing information with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which could potentially bring charges against Russia.

Last year, Microsoft released a report that found that cyberattacks were strongly tied and sometimes directly timed with kinetic military operations on the ground targeting Ukrainian services and institutions. 

The report also found that Russian-backed hacking groups launched more than 200 cyber operations against Ukraine, including destructive attacks that threatened civilians.

Zhora said it’s time for the international community to weigh the impact of digital assaults and how to respond to them.

“We are discussing completely new terms and ideas on how to classify these attacks, which happened during the war, which have never happened before,” he said.

Tags cyber attacks Russia-Ukraine war

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