Britain revealed a secret program to help Ukraine in the face of Russian cyber attacks.
Details of the £6m program, to keep operations security protected, have not been made public, officials said.
Ukraine has witnessed unprecedented attacks from a group of Russian intelligence services, according to the participants in the program.
But Ukraine’s defenses – with the support of its allies – helped it withstand numerous attempts to strike and disrupt the regimes.
Russia has repeatedly denied allegations that it carried out cyber attacks.
Participants in Britain’s defense program believe that the targeting of Ukraine in cyberspace represents, it is believed, the most comprehensive that any government has faced in history.
Security sources said that the Russian attacks came in waves and that those waves accelerated in the second half of last year as Moscow prepared to invade Ukraine.
The next wave aimed to seek to shut down government ministries in January and February, then move to a new, more opportunistic phase in recent months, sources say.
Britain has long worked with Ukraine on cyber defense but switched to direct assistance after the invasion.
Assistance focused on working with industry partners to provide the specialized capabilities needed to detect and investigate attacks, as well as providing other hardware and systems to enhance defenses.
“We have brought some of our experience to bear on helping them defend against what has been a daily cyber-attack from Russia since the start of the invasion,” said Leo Docherty, Minister for Europe at Britain’s Foreign and International Development Department.
Support is provided through the State Department, which officials say is leading allies in providing specialized expertise.
The US Army Cyber Command recently revealed how it helped hunt the Russians into Ukrainian systems, despite their team having withdrawn by the time of the invasion in February.
Sources close to the British program, which includes extensive support for the private sector, say they have seen waves of attacks, sometimes using innovative techniques.
This included targeting satellite communications to get into sensitive networks, using networks of human agents on the ground to gain access to key systems – and USBs found infected with certain viruses apparently inserted into computers.
There were, in some cases, attempts to disrupt ministries and infrastructure.
But it appears that Russia did not initially attempt to destroy the networks of the telecommunications and energy sector, likely because it hoped to use them for its own purposes, and to “take advantage of them from afar”, according to a participant in the British program.
In 2015, Russian-linked hackers managed to shut down a power plant in the country for hours and, after initially delaying, increasingly targeted electricity systems this year.
Docherty said: “We were seeing horrible images every day of the way the electrical grid in Ukraine was being hit by ballistic strikes, drone strikes by the Russians – and they face the same threat and the same challenge in the cyber domain.”
It was also said in the early months of the war that British-backed teams had seen specific Russian targeting of databases looking for personally identifiable data at the village, county, and city level, possibly Russian intelligence services seeking to locate and locate officials.
Sources said that military intelligence monitored the entire groups of hacking groups from all three Russian intelligence agencies, the most active of which was Military Intelligence.
The aid appears to have been able to halt the more advanced capabilities that were targeting senior Ukrainian officials.
One of the more undercover groups, codenamed Turla, which is linked to the Russian security service, was seen in two locations because of its mistakes.
The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service continues to spy on American and European governments.
New Russian teams were reportedly seen mobilizing using innovations in the way malware is developed and disseminated.
Some darknet observers say there are indications, though, that the conflict has disrupted the Russian criminal world, albeit temporarily, with divisions between groups over the war.
Despite effective defenses, led by the Ukrainians and backed by allies, Dhalon says, cyberspace remains highly contested, as Russia continues to search for new ways to implement its ambitions.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Britain’s support for Ukraine is not limited to military aid – we are drawing on world-leading British expertise to support Ukraine’s cyber defenses. Together we will ensure the Kremlin is defeated in all areas: on the ground, in the air, and in cyberspace.”
“The threat remains real, and the UK support package undoubtedly strengthens Ukraine’s defenses even further,” said Lindy Cameron, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, one of the UK’s largest intelligence, cyber, and security (GCHQ) agencies.