A Microsoft research analysis suggests that Russian hackers are preparing a fresh round of cyberattacks against Ukraine.
The tech giant’s cyber security research and analysis team revealed a number of findings on Wednesday on the methods used by Russian hackers during the crisis in Ukraine and potential next steps.
“From January 2023, Microsoft has witnessed Russian cyber threat activity shifting to strengthen damaging and intelligence collecting capacity on Ukraine and its partners’ civilian and military assets,” the paper stated.
One group ‘appears to be preparing for a renewed destructive campaign’.
Microsoft found that a particularly sophisticated Russian hacking team, known as Sandworm, was testing ‘additional ransomware-style capabilities that could be used in destructive attacks on organizations outside Ukraine that serve key functions in Ukraine’s supply lines’.
A ransomware attack typically involves hackers penetrating an organization, encrypting their data and extorting them for payment to regain access.
Historically, ransomware has also been used as cover for more malicious cyber activity, including so-called wipers that simply destroy data.
Since January 2022, Microsoft said it had discovered at least nine different wipers and two types of ransomware variants used against more than 100 Ukrainian organizations.
‘In 2023, Russia has stepped up its espionage attacks, targeting organizations in at least 17 European nations, mostly government agencies. Wiper attacks continue in Ukraine.’ said Clint Watts, general manager for Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center.
These developments have been paired with a growth in more stealthy Russian cyber operations designed to directly compromise organizations in countries allied to Ukraine, according to the report.
As of late November 2022, Microsoft and other security firms identified a new form of ransomware, called ‘Sullivan’, deployed against Ukrainian targets, in addition to the ‘Prestige’ ransomware Russia deployed in Ukraine and Poland in October 2022.
‘Our analysis suggests that Russia will continue to conduct espionage attacks against Ukraine and Ukraine’s partners, and destructive attacks within and potentially outside Ukraine as was done with Prestige,’ said Watts.
Moscow has also taken to spreading propaganda aimed at Ukrainian refugees across Europe, trying to convince them that they could be deported and conscripted into the Ukrainian military.
Russian media promoted protests supported by a pro-Russia political party encouraging citizens to demand the government pay for winter energy bills.
Another Russia-aligned campaign called ‘Moldova Leaks’ published alleged leaks from Moldovan politicians, just one of many of hack-and-leak operations aimed at sowing distrust between European citizens and their governments.
The findings come as Russia has been introducing new troops to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, according to Western security officials.
Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov last month warned that Russia could accelerate its military activities surrounding the February 24 anniversary of its invasion.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.