Last updated at Thu, 24 Feb 2022 16:27:17 GMT

Update (Feb 24, 2022): The situation in Ukraine has worsened since this blog post was first published, though our preparation advice remains the same. We will update the Rapid7 blog with a new post as events warrant.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain elevated, with a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the likelihood of military conflict and its aftermath. As the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) noted in a recent statement on these circumstances, while “​​there are not currently any specific credible threats to the US homeland,” there is the “potential for the Russian government to consider escalating its destabilizing actions in ways that may impact others outside of Ukraine.”

Heightened risk

There are reports that Russia is leveraging offensive cyber capabilities as the situation between Russia and Ukraine escalates. If the situation draws closer to conflict, these actions may also extend to potential retaliatory cyberattacks, or cyberattack campaigns, against critical physical and cyber infrastructure within countries that provide support to Ukraine. This may seem alarmist, but US and other Western entities have been under considerable attack from Russian-affiliated hacking groups for years. Government officials have long reported that such activities are supported or, at best, overlooked by the Russian government, and commentators and researchers have suggested this helps advance Russia’s political agenda. In June 2021, the sustained high level of these attacks against US critical infrastructure resulted in the US President Biden addressing the matter directly with Russia’s President Putin.

Moreover, events like NotPetya and Conficker have shown us that targeting in cyberspace is rarely precise, and collateral damage from cyberattacks can spread far beyond the original target.

Given the increased risk of damage from cyberattacks — whether a direct attack against Ukraine and its supporters or an indirect effect from an attack — it is prudent, as CISA notes, that “all organizations — regardless of size — adopt a heightened posture when it comes to cybersecurity and protecting their most critical assets” and business processes.

The following actions are highly recommended for all organizations. These practices should be taken even in the absence of a geopolitical conflict — threats to organizational cybersecurity were present before the recent Ukraine-Russian tensions and will be present afterwards.

Preparation for direct cyberattack

Fending off an attack from a well-resourced nation state is a nightmare scenario for most cybersecurity teams. However, there are some fundamental steps your organization can take to reduce both the likelihood of becoming a target, the severity of the damage, and the chances of success for an attacker.

CISA’s Shields Up advisory itemizes many steps that are sound practices to defend against any potential cyberattack, and we encourage all organizations to review each of them as part of their preparation plans.

Fundamentally, the guidance comes down to ensuring you have:

  • Safe and resilient configurations in your external internet and cloud asset and application deployments
  • Visibility into processes and network activity across all components of critical business functions
  • A well-tested incident response process in place to respond quickly and effectively to all cyber incursions

If your organization currently works with Ukrainian organizations, we echo CISA’s guidance to take extra care to monitor, inspect, and isolate traffic from those organizations and closely review access controls for that traffic.

US organizations should also keep CISA’s contact information (located at the end of their report) handy in both digital and physical form (in the event you cannot access digital assets) so you can engage them or the FBI in the event you are the victim of a direct cyberattack.

Preparation for cyber critical infrastructure attack

As noted, Russia is a very capable cyber adversary, but they cannot attack every asset/organization individually, all at once. There is a greater likelihood for larger-scale disruption or damage through the targeting of digital resources and Internet services that many people and organizations rely on.

Such attacks could take many forms, such as:

  • Denial of Service (DoS) attacks against central/large DNS and other “internet plumbing services” providers (remember the DynDNS DoS attack that brought down Twitter and many other sites back in 2016), which could result in loss of access to both your web- and app-based client-facing resources and your access to any Sofware-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings, such as Salesforce, Concur, Zendesk, DocuSign, and other widely-used services.
  • DoS attacks against cloud business suite providers, such as Google Workspace or Microsoft 365, which could disrupt critical business communications for a period of time.
  • Extended DoS and targeted ”destructionware” attacks, which could prevent the operation of services and execution of key business processes. Like NotPetya and Olympic Destroyer, destructionware aims to — via encryption or deletion — destroy the capabilities of the machines it infects.
  • Large-scale DoS attacks against critical network routing segments, and mass BGP hijacking campaigns.

Now would be a good time to itemize all the third-party dependencies in your critical business processes and to draft a plan for ensuring continuity of these processes if each of those services became unavailable for some period of time. It would also be prudent to start identifying alternate providers for each service component and drafting rapid migration plans for each.

For the network-level attacks mentioned above, there isn’t much you can do when it comes to centralized network point DoS, but you can help increase your resilience to BGP hijacking by implementing safe BGP practices and encouraging your business partners and ISPs to do the same.

If tensions become seriously strained, there is a non-zero (but likely very low) chance of direct cyberattacks aimed at causing damage to US and allied physical infrastructure. The US alone has a large number of critical infrastructure facilities — many of which are privately owned — that are still in the process of strengthening their cybersecurity defenses and capabilities. This includes entities that all businesses rely on, such as electricity providers, emergency health services, transportation, and financial institutions.

Acknowledging the relatively low likelihood but high impact of a crippling cyberattack, now would be a good time to review and update (as necessary) your business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) plans and playbooks, and perhaps run an exercise (or two!) that involves loss of one or more critical infrastructure components.

Don’t panic

While there is cause for concern and preparation, there is no cause for panic or overreaction. It is, however, very appropriate to take some time to review your security posture, understand this heightened threat level, and engage stakeholders in an assessment of if — and how — you should proceed to shore up any areas that have gaps.


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