Ukraine is “99.9%” convinced that Russia is behind a massive cyber attack on Ukrainian government websites and an incursion could mean a new physical invasion will follow, the president’s top security official told Sky News.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, revealed that some areas in the government’s security and defense departments are on even higher alert than usual in the event of further hostilities.
He noted that the cyber attack was a “textbook” step ahead of military action in the real world.
Asked if a new Russian invasion could happen over the weekend, Mr Danilov said: “It could happen every day. Again, it depends on just one person – [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. “
A senior official said in an exclusive interview that the cyber intrusion began on Friday at 2 a.m. local time and was reported only an hour later in Russia.
“We should have slept then, because it was 3 in the morning,” he said when speaking at the National Security and Defense Council building in a well-guarded complex in Kiev.
“Their number one task for today is to shake up our inner situation.”
The attack, which affected about 70 government websites, warned the public to “fear and expect the worst”.
It came as Russia continued to multiply some 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders despite a week of high-stakes diplomacy with the U.S. and other NATO allies trying to alleviate the crisis but which, they feared, brought no breakthrough.
Mr Danilov does not seem to doubt who is responsible for the cyber attack.
“We can clearly follow their signature. These are Russian experts who are carrying out these actions,” he said.
Asked directly whether he believes Russia is behind the invasion, he said: “I am 99.9% sure.
Russia has in the past denied allegations that it carried out hostile cyber attacks.
As for whether he thought it was the first shot before the physical assault, Mr Danilov said: “That’s according to the textbook. Destabilization, destabilization, destabilization and then action follows. That’s what all the textbooks say.”
Mr Danilov, who turned 60 this year, making him, according to him, the oldest official advising President Vladimir Zelensky, stressed that his country is not unfamiliar with hostilities.
For the past eight years, it has endured war with Russia since Moscow annexed Crimea and supported the uprising in the east of the country.
Asked if he had a message for Mr Putin, the senior security official replied: “Quite simply: please take your soldiers and your weapons from our territory and bring them home.
“You have your own business, there’s a lot of trouble ahead of you. If you don’t run your country, it will fail sooner or later and that will happen before our eyes.”
He added: “Ukrainians are peaceful, we have never attacked anyone. We are just defending ourselves all the time. Besides, I am more than sure that victory will be ours, because the truth is on our side and the truth always wins.”
In another part of Kiev, cyber officials dealt with an intrusion from a newly built cyber security center.
It is a publicly reversed part of Ukraine’s cyber defense capabilities – an area that has been significantly strengthened with the help of the US and the UK, as Ukraine has suffered previous large-scale cyber attacks attributed to Russia. These attacks coincided with previous Russian military operations against the country in 2014.
A top cyber official speaking at the center said British and American officials were the first to contact Ukraine and offer help in responding to the attack.
Asked whether this offer was accepted, Lt. Col. Yurii Shchyhol, chairman of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, told Sky News: “Yes. They help us with their experience, skills and experts.
“We’re trying to rebuild everything and I think we’ll do it soon.”
In addition to responding to the incursion, officials at the center also trained to strengthen Ukraine’s defense for the next.
Viktor Zhora, deputy chairman of the service focusing on digital development, said Ukraine suffers about 50,000 cyber attacks a week, but that as serious as Friday’s intrusion only happens every two to three years.
He said Ukraine’s cyber defense is usually sufficient to fight intrusions, but no country is immune.
“When you have a lot of resources, when you have a huge army of cyber experts who are essentially cyber terrorists, then it’s easy to break into even the most protected infrastructure,” he said.
Ukraine does not have offensive cyber weapons for retaliation, but the official said it is ready to defend itself against new attacks from Russia.
“Everyone is doing their job – our soldiers in the east [of Ukraine] we are protecting our borders and here we are protecting Ukrainian cyberspace. “