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Failure of Russia’s cyber attacks on Ukraine is most important lesson for NCSC

Russia has so far failed in its attempts to destabilise Ukraine through cyber attacks due to strength of Ukrainian, security industry and international efforts

The failure of Russian cyber attacks on Ukraine to achieve their intended impact has been an important lesson for the UK’s National Cyber Security Council (NCSC), according to its CEO.

But speaking at the Chatham House security and defence conference 2022, NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron warned against complacency because Russia might change its approach and take more risks with cyber attacks, which could affect the UK.

She said Ukrainian cyber defences, IT security industry support and international collaboration have so far prevented Russian cyber attacks from having their intended destabilising impact during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In many ways, the most important lesson to take from the invasion is not around the Russian attacks – which have been very significant and, in many cases, very sophisticated – it is around Russia’s lack of success,” she told the conference.

Discussing Russia’s online disinformation campaign, designed to cause confusion and chaos, and its cyber attacks, which attempt to undermine confidence in the Ukrainian leadership, Cameron said: “Both efforts have largely failed, thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian and western digital expertise within governments and the private sector.

“Try as they might, Russian cyber attacks simply have not had the intended impact.”

She said three things could be attributed to the “unexpected” lack of success – “impressive” Ukrainian cyber defences, “incredible” support from the cyber security sector and “impressive collaboration” between the US, EU, Nato, the UK, and others.

“Just as we have seen inspirational and heroic defence by Ukrainian military on the battlefield, we have seen incredibly impressive defensive cyber operations by Ukrainian cyber security practitioners. Many commentators have suggested that this has been the most effective defensive cyber activity undertaken under sustained pressure in history,” added Cameron.

She said the constant cyber attacks on Ukraine, emanating from Russia, over the past decade had prepared the country’s cyber defences. “In many ways, Russia has made Ukraine match fit over the past 10 years by consistently attacking them,” said Cameron.

“We haven’t seen ‘cyber Armageddon’, but that’s not a surprise to cyber professionals, who never expected it. What we have seen is a very significant conflict in cyber space – probably the most sustained and intensive cyber campaign on record.”

This year, in light of the situation in Ukraine, the NCSC has been advising UK organisations to take a more proactive approach to cyber security and operate at “a heightened threat level”.

This, said Cameron, includes verifying all software is up to date, checking backups and preparing an incident plan.

Cameron warned against complacency. “There may be organisations that are beginning to [wonder if this is] still necessary, as in the UK we haven’t experienced a major incident related to the war in Ukraine. My answer is an emphatic yes.”

“There is still a real possibility that Russia could change its approach in the cyber domain and take more risks – which could cause more significant impacts in the UK.”

Read Cameron’s full speech here.

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