Tianchu Gao is an IPilogue Writer and a 1L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Cybersecurity has become a major battlefield in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, it had launched waves of cybersecurity attacks on a range of important social sectors of Ukraine. The attacks in January focused on governmental websites. According to Ukraine officials, Russia had taken down around 70 Ukraine government websites, including the central institutions such as the Cabinet of Ministers and the Security and Defense Council.
By February, two other waves of cyber-attacks brought down the websites of Ukraine’s defense ministry, army, and two largest banks: PrivatBank and Oschadbank. Russia used a sophisticated data-wiping malware that reached hundreds of computers from different organizations in Ukraine, including the defense, aviation, finance, and IT service sectors. Although Russia never officially admitted it, experts believe that the Russian government is behind the groups that launched these attacks.
Quad9, a domain name system platform, detected 4.6 million attacks against computers and phones in Ukraine on March 9th alone. According to cybersecurity expert Bill Woodcock, Ukrainians are experiencing increasing numbers of phishing and malware attacks during the war.
The Ukraine government responded to the attacks with support from NATO and the European Union. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence at Tallinn, Estonia, collaborates with Ukraine to strengthen its national cyber security. The EU had deployed a rapid-response team of ten cybersecurity experts from six different countries to help Ukraine mitigate the effects of the cyberattacks.
In addition to state actors, large private companies have lent Ukraine critical support. For instance, Microsoft is helping Ukraine with cybersecurity. It announced on April 7th that it had disrupted cyberattacks from Russia targeting Ukraine and organizations in the United States and Europe. Its representative claims that Microsoft can observe Russia’s attack on the Ukraine government and infrastructure since the beginning of the invasion. Microsoft works closely with the Ukrainian government and other organizations to help them defend against the onslaught. Another example is SpaceX, a space exploration tech company. It provides civilians and tech companies in Ukraine access to the Internet via satellite in rural or disconnected areas.
Private companies, especially tech giants, have been unprecedentedly active in interstate warfare. As cybersecurity becomes an increasingly important part of national security, big tech companies are likely to have more power and a higher level of involvement in global conflicts. While this change may benefit the public interest, it inevitably calls for more scrutiny and regulation.