Viktar Prakapenia: Insights the UK Can Garner from Ukraine's Cybersecurity Experiences

Ukraine's Cybersecurity

As global politics grow more complex, so does warfare, intertwining traditional, physical combat with the emerging realm of cyber warfare. Viktor Prokopenya, a British entrepreneur, recently attended a cybersecurity conference where he explored the experiences of Ukrainians. Leveraging his encounters with cyber attacks, Prokopenya discerns valuable insights that the UK government can draw from Ukraine’s expertise, fostering a climate of shared knowledge and advancement.

The Unseen Invasion: Cyber Threats to Ukraine

Amid Russia’s escalating aggression towards Ukraine, its digital battleground bristled with high-profile cyber-attacks aimed to destabilize and spread fear. These included website infiltrations and infrastructure disruptions, along with the notorious NotPetya virus release in 2017. 

Several key episodes marked this digital onslaught. 

2015The SandWorm group launched the BlackEnergy malware causing blackouts.
2016Ukraine’s power grid was disrupted by the Industroyer malware.
2017Petya/NotPetya ransomware attack, causing significant economic losses.
2018Fancy Bear’s VPNFilter attack and ongoing election interference attempts in Ukraine.
2022Phishing campaigns by FROZENBARENTS and FROZENLAKE targeted defense and energy sectors in Ukraine.
2022Attacks on the Caspian Pipeline Consortium and the Ukrainian defense industry, exploiting social media platforms for operations and information dissemination. 
2023Russian GRU and Internet Research Agency conducted coordinated information operations to manipulate public opinion.
2023The Cuba ransomware group targeted Ukrainian officials for intelligence and financial motives.

These incidents, however, have not been confined to Ukraine alone. “Last week, tens of thousands of employees at some of Britain’s biggest companies had their data compromised in a hack by a Russian-speaking criminal gang,” as evidence of the global nature of these cyber threats.

Viktar Prakapenia: Victim to Advocate

Prokopenya’s encounter with this digital warfare echoes the global narrative. Following his public announcement of a £1m donation to Ukrainian charities and a withdrawal of his operations from Russia, his London-based company was subjected to a massive “distributed denial of service” attack. Reflecting on the experience, he describes it as “like somebody trying to break down your front door, every second of every day, for three long months.”

Prokopenya attended a cybersecurity conference in Kyiv to address the escalating complexity of the global conflict, particularly regarding targeted cyberattacks and strategic information manipulation impacting the private sector and critical infrastructure. 

Recognising Cyber Warfare as War Crimes

Despite the rapid rise in cyber warfare’s prevalence and impact, the international law surrounding it remains a grey area. Recently, Ukrainian leaders have been providing evidence of Russian cyber-attacks to the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging them to investigate these attacks as potential war crimes.

The traditional definition of war crimes, as stated in Article 8 of the Rome Statute, revolves around physical, tangible actions such as willful killing, torture, and property destruction. However, the modern landscape of conflict demands a redefinition that incorporates the digital realm. As Prokopenya highlights, “A cyber-attack on a transport network, for example, could lead directly to death or injury.”

The Power of Resilience: Learning from Ukraine’s Approach

As governments worldwide grapple with the enormity of the cyber threat, Ukraine offers an invaluable case study. Through each wave of cyber warfare, Ukraine’s defences have become stronger, demonstrating an innovative, adaptable, and resilient approach that other nations could learn from.

This progression is perhaps most evident in the formation of the IT Army of Ukraine, a group consisting of almost 200,000 volunteers that conduct cyber operations to sow chaos in Russian cyberspace. This group, which has been active for over a year, is unofficially sanctioned by the Ukrainian government, with an office linked to Vice Prime Minister Mikhail Fedorov.

Under President Zelenskyy, Ukraine has utilized the power of its people, forming a volunteer cyber force born out of necessity. This force conducted impactful cyberattacks: hacked Moscow Stock Exchange and Sberbank websites, targeted Russian infrastructure like power grids and railways, posted celebratory messages on 800+ Russian sites, attacked 6,000+ web resources, collaborated with Anonymous for a Moscow traffic jam, exposed Wagner group’s data, and hacked Collective Security Treaty Organization’s website.

Towards a More Secure Future

While the UK government has taken steps towards bolstering the nation’s cyber defence mechanisms, urgent legislative reforms are still needed. Critical issues such as data protection, online child protection, infrastructure protection, and intellectual property protection must be addressed to fortify our digital spaces against emerging cyber threats.

About Viktar Prakapenia

Originally from Belarus, Viktar Prakapenia is a prominent British technology entrepreneur and investor. He established the investment firm VP Capital and played a significant role in the 2017 implementation of the Decree on Digital Economy in Belarus. However, despite his contributions, the policies enacted by Alexander Lukashenko compelled Prokopenya to leave Belarus.

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