How Ukraine's Internet Can Fend Off Russian Attacks
Its complex internet infrastructure has evolved to promote resiliency
As Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on the morning of February 24, the internet shuddered—and for some, stopped completely. Major Ukrainian internet service provider Triolan had been temporarily knocked out, in a blackout that mostly affected the northeastern Kharkiv region—a target of the Russian invasion. Even as the network came back online the following day, smaller disruptions plagued it throughout the week, according to data from the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA), an internet connectivity observatory affiliated with Georgia Tech. The Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk also experienced drops in connectivity.
Since the beginning of the conflict, there have been concerns that Russia-backed hackers might attempt to disconnect Ukraine’s internet, in the same way they took down the country’s power grid in 2015. Since February 23, Russia’s cyber army has been carrying out repeated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against government websites, overwhelming them with spurious traffic in order to take them offline. (Ukraine’s own cyber warriors have been retaliating in kind.) But despite what happened to Triolan, Russia’s chances of carrying out a full-fledged internet shutdown against Ukraine are low.
Internet shutdowns, as a rule, are enacted by governments with the ability to order internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect, throttle, or restrict access to the internet. Staging a shutdown as an external attacker is much harder to pull off. Russia could try aiming its DDoS or other cyberattacks at the border routers that connect an ISP's network to the global internet, said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at internet measurement company Kentik, but an attack that could take down a website might have a harder time knocking out internet infrastructure.
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