Moscow Expanding Its Cyber War Against Ukraine

March 25, 2016
Prikarpatyaoblenergo, the Ukrainian energy company.

Moscow Expanding Its Cyber War Against Ukraine

Staunton, VA, March 24, 2016 – Increasing cyber-attacks against strategic targets in Ukraine are part of Russia’s hybrid war against that country, its security services warn; and Kyiv is having to play catch-up because currently it lacks much of the legal framework and technology for defending against them.

On the Apostrophe portal March 23, Ukrainian journalist Artem Dekhtyarenko says that Moscow is exploiting these shortcomings in order to create chaos and destroy the confidence of Ukrainians in their institutions, thus weakening them and the country as a whole.
One of the reasons Moscow has been able to do this is that its actions are hidden within the broader growth of cyber-crime in Ukraine. According to Sergey Demedyuk, who heads the interior ministry’s cyber-crime unit, there were 4,800 cyber-crimes in Ukraine in 2014; 6,026 in 2015; and the number continues to rise.
Most of these involve fraud or identity theft, but far from all, and “the most dangerous examples of cyber-crime” are those directed not against individuals but against Ukrainian businesses and institutions, according to Nikolay Kuleshov, deputy head of the information security department of the SBU.
Separating out official Russian crimes from the mass of cyber-crimes is no easy matter, he says, because “Russian intelligence often uses the territories of third countries and does everything they can to mask their involvement” in this sector.

Experts suggest that the Russian security services were behind the recent cyber-attack against the Prikarpatyevoblenergo power company which left “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians without light for almost six hours and also shut down Ukrainian state enterprises including the Borispol airport. (See here for more on that incident.)

There are traces of Russian involvement in a number of other cases, experts say, and Gennady Gudak, deputy director for information security at the Iqusion Corporation, says that they can involve attacks on “all spheres which today are linked to the Internet and which exercise their functions through computer networks.”
Kuleshov adds that “attacks on strategic targets of Ukrainian infrastructure can be directed not only at shutting them down but also to destabilize the situation and to sow chaos and panic among people” who may as a result then engage in protests against Kyiv. The Russians often exploit the fact that Ukrainian institutions often use electronics of Russian origin.
Last week, President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree approving a January 2016 Security Council decision about dealing with cyber-security and defining key terms like “cyber-terrorism.” And now the interior ministry and SBU are working on new legislation in that area.
But officials acknowledge they have a long way to go: Demedyuk notes that “bringing cyber-criminals to justice in Ukraine is complicated by the fact that we do not have a corresponding legal framework.” Indeed, at present, “Ukraine is a more liberal country regarding cyber-crime” and cyber-criminals often use it as their base.
Moreover, as Gudak points out, Kyiv has been anything but quick in moving on this issue. The first draft documents about cyber-crime were drafted four years ago as part of a Ukraine-NATO meeting in Yalta. But only now is Kyiv taking them up formally. If things don’t speed up, Ukraine will face ever greater problems in this area.

Mass Arrest of Imams Trained Abroad in Tajikistan Likely to Backfire
Staunton, VA, March 24, 2016 – The Tajik militia have arrested approximately 20 imams in the northern portion of Tajikistan for administrative violations and detained them for 15 days; but their lawyers expect that the authorities will fabricate cases of extremism against them during that time and bring more serious charges against them.

Up to now, the official Tajik media have not reported on these arrests. They have been the subject of a report only by the independent Payom news agency whose coverage has been summarized by the Russian-language Ansar portal.
Most of those arrested, the Payom agency says, have condemned the Islamist opposition in Tajikistan and have urged their parishioners not to take part in politics; but the 20 share one thing in common: all of them received their theological educations abroad, mostly in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
That makes them suspect in the eyes of Dushanbe which has been carrying out the most thorough-going effort of any post-Soviet state to identify and exclude graduates of foreign medrassahs and Islamic universities. (On this campaign and its limitations, see here).
This wave of arrests reflects Dushanbe’s nervousness about the spread of Islamist values from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, but there are three reasons to think that instead of restricting the influence of Islamist radicalism there, this action will have exactly the opposite effect and allow the radicals to gain ground:
· First, the imams who have been arrested are likely to be replaced by far less qualified people who will be far less able to oppose the appeals of Islamists coming into Tajikistan from abroad.
· Second, many Tajiks are likely to see this wave of arrests as evidence of the anti-Islamic nature of the Tajik state and thus be more willing to listen to the radicals.
· And third, Dushanbe’s assumption that it can control Muslims by controlling the mosques is likely to be shown as unwarranted. Many Tajiks will now go to underground mosques that the state doesn’t control and where the messages they will receive are far more radical than any these 20 have given.