* Ukraine says Russia blocks phones of MPs, security chief
* Ukrainian telecom says Crimea fibre-optic links damaged
* Ukraine government website down, cyber attacks limited
By Pavel Polityuk and Jim Finkle
KIEV/BOSTON, March 4 Ukraine's
telecommunications system has come under attack, with equipment
installed in Russian-controlled Crimea used to interfere with
the mobile phones of members of parliament, the head of
Ukraine's SBU security service said on Tuesday.
Some Internet and telephone services were severed after
Russian forces seized control of airfields and key installations
in Ukraine's Crimea region on Friday, but now lawmakers were
being targeted, Valentyn Nalivaichenko told a news briefing.
"I confirm that an...attack is under way on mobile phones of
members of Ukrainian parliament for the second day in row," the
security chief told a news briefing.
"At the entrance to (telecoms firm) Ukrtelecom in Crimea,
illegally and in violation of all commercial contracts, was
installed equipment that blocks my phone as well as the phones
of other deputies, regardless of their political affiliation,"
Ukrtelecom has already said armed men raided its facilities
in Crimea on Friday and tampered with fibre optic cables,
causing outages of local telephone and Internet systems on the
The Ukrainian security chief did not say whether the new
issues were linked to the earlier raid or a separate tampering
incident. Ukrtelecom said it was working on a response to
questions from Reuters about Nalivaichenko's remarks.
Russia's domestic intelligence service, the FSB, declined to
comment when asked if Moscow was behind the communications
disruptions in Ukraine.
The main Ukrainian government website, www.kmu.gov.ua, was
offline for about 72 hours after Russian forces seized control
of the peninsula, but went back up early on Monday, said John
Bumgarner, chief technology officer for the U.S. Cyber
Bumgarner, whose firm advises companies and government
agencies on how to fend off cyber attacks, said, he is not sure
that the site went down as a result of a cyber attack. Still, he
said he believes Moscow has the ability to cause major
disruptions using cyber operations.
"I know they have the ability to do at least as much damage
as they did in Estonia and Georgia," he said.
Estonia suffered a 10-day attack on its internet services in
2007, which caused major disruptions to its financial system,
during a spat with Moscow over a Soviet-era war memorial, and
Georgia was hit by mass cyber attacks during a brief 2008 war
with Russia over its pro-Moscow South Ossetia region.
Russian authorities denied direct involvement in both
attacks, saying they had no influence over the actions of
self-styled patriotic hackers.
RUSSIA HOLDING BACK?
Much of Ukraine's telecommunications infrastructure was
built when it was part of the Soviet Union, along with what is
now the Russian Federation, and is particularly vulnerable to
penetration by Moscow.
"The Russians have the place completely wired," said Jim
Lewis, a former U.S. foreign service officer and now senior
fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
"They are right next door and most traffic has to go through
Russia. That they haven't done more probably reflects their
confidence that they're going to come out ahead and there's
nothing anyone can do about it," Lewis said.
Cyber warfare experts say that while Russia certainly has
the ability to conduct such campaigns against Ukraine, it has
yet to need to use those capabilities.
"This would show the Russians acting with more discretion
and targeting than recently," said John Bassett, former head of
the London and Washington stations of GCHQ, Britain's top secret
government communications centre.
"This wouldn't expose any great depth of their technological
capability and they would be keeping the harder stuff back,"
said Bassett, now associate at Oxford University's Cyber
Marty Martin, a former senior operations officer with the
CIA, said Moscow would likely only take action to damage
Ukraine's Internet and internal communications systems if
hostilities broke out.
"A lot of times you don't want to shut things down. If you
do that, then you don't get your flow of intelligence. You are
probably better off monitoring it," Martin said.
Experts believe Russia was behind the hacking of a
confidential phone conversation between senior U.S. State
Department official Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to
Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, which was leaked over YouTube last
"Russia's strategy is control the narrative, discredit
opponents, and coerce," Lewis said.
(Additional reporting by Peter Apps in London; Sabina Zawadzki,
Tim Heritage in Kiev; Alissa da Carbonnel in Sebastopol; Editing
by Jon Boyle)