Russia targets internet infrastructure in occupied Ukraine regions

5 May 2022

Image: © xiaoliangge/Stock.adobe.com

Internet providers in Ukraine have reported damage to their infrastructure and a drop in coverage in Russian-occupied regions.

Russia may be trying to tighten its grip in the parts of Ukraine it has occupied by rerouting internet traffic to its own communications infrastructure.

According to internet service monitor NetBlocks, the occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine experienced a “near-total internet blackout” on Saturday (30 April).

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NetBlocks said the connection was partially restored on 1 May by the regional provider Skynet, but the traffic had been rerouted to Russia’s Rostelecom instead of Ukrainian infrastructure.

“Connectivity on the network has been routed via Russia’s internet instead of Ukrainian telecoms infrastructure and is hence likely now subject to Russian internet regulations, surveillance and censorship,” NetBlocks said in an update on its website.

Ukrainian officials said yesterday (4 May) that a communications blackout began in the region due to shelling, which damaged the fibre optic network in Kherson.

The head of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, Yurii Shchyhol, said in a briefing that service operators restored communication in the Kherson region using backup lines.

Netblocks also said on Twitter yesterday that the region had been reconnected to Ukrainian infrastructure.

Shchyhol said Russia’s attempts to connect Ukrainian internet users to the Russian network was a violation of international law.

At the briefing, Shchyhol also said Russian forces have been targeting TV and radio broadcasting infrastructure, potentially impacting the ability of people in Ukraine to get reliable information on the conflict.

Multiple internet providers in Ukraine have reported damage to their infrastructure and a drop in their coverage in other occupied regions such as Donbas, the Financial Times reported. Broadband and mobile provider Kyivstar said it can only provide connectivity to around 25pc of the people in Donetsk that it could prior to the Russian invasion and 10pc in Luhansk.

Ukraine has been facing various forms of digital attacks amid the Russian invasion. Last month, the Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine said it managed to prevent a cyberattack from Russian hackers that targeted the country’s electrical grid.

There have also been growing fears of attacks spilling out to other countries. Cybersecurity authorities from nations in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance issued a warning last month about the threat of Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks on critical infrastructure systems.

The organisations said there is “evolving intelligence” that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks, and made reference to the warning issued by US president Joe Biden in March about the threat to US critical infrastructure.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com