Ukraine intelligence accuses China of hacking days before invasion: report

AP Photo/Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool

China allegedly launched a major cyberattack on Ukraine’s military and nuclear facilities in the lead up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian intelligence reports obtained by British daily newspaper The Times

Ukraine’s security service said the Chinese government attempted to hack more than 600 websites belonging to the government and other key institutions, according to the report.

The security agency alleged that the attacks began before the end of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games held in Beijing and escalated the day before Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 23. 

The agency added that China tried to hack several institutions, including Ukraine’s defense forces, the national bank, and the railway authority. The attacks were intended to steal data and find ways to disrupt or shut down the country’s defense and critical infrastructure, according to the report. 

Ukrainian officials have also accused the Russians of targeting several Ukrainian government websites, including the parliament and the foreign affairs and defense ministries, in the weeks and days leading up to the invasion.

Although China hasn’t publicly declared its support or opposition to the war in Ukraine, some experts say that doesn’t mean it is not helping behind the scenes.

However, the experts were quick to explain that the collaboration between the two countries is highly unlikely because the Chinese playbook in cyberspace tends to be different than Russia’s.

“Generally, when we talk about China in cyberspace, we’re talking about cyber espionage more than cyberattacks,” said Josephine Wolff, an associate professor of cybersecurity policy at the Tufts University Fletcher School.

Chinese actors tend to target their victims by means of cyber espionage to gather intelligence and steal intellectual property and trade secrets, rather than disrupt and harm the networks and operations of critical infrastructure, the experts said. 

The experts, who spoke to The Hill prior to the release of The Times article, said they hadn’t seen any credible evidence that China is helping Russia launch cyberattacks against Ukraine.

“I find it unlikely that the Russians would enlist China’s help with that,” said Michael Daniel, president and CEO at Cyber Threat Alliance.

“Russia has so much [cyber] capability on its own … it’s difficult for me to imagine that kind of collaboration,” he said.

The Chinese and Ukrainian embassies as well as the White House Office of the National Cyber Director did not respond to a request for comment on the matter. 

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