Hackers in Belarus have claimed they launched a ransomware attack against the state railway company's computer systems to disrupt the movement of Russian military forces.
On Monday January 24, the Belarusian Cyber-Partisans tweeted: “At the command of the terrorist Lukashenka, #Belarusian Railway allows the occupying troops to enter our land. We encrypted some of BR's servers, databases, and workstations to disrupt its operations."
They later added that they have encryption keys and are ready to return Belarusian Railroad's systems to normal, on the condition that President Alexander Lukashenko releases 50 political prisoners who are in need of medical assistance and prevents Russian troops from entering Belarusian territory.
The cyberattack, if the reports are correct, could be a first of its kind. Typically, ransomware attacks are carried out with money on the mind. Hackers will crack into a computer network and threaten to leak, disrupt, or delete information unless a financial ransom is paid. In this situation, however, non-state actors appear to have used ransomware with purely political motivations.
Belarusian Cyber-Partisans tweeted out a number of images showing internal documents and bank information of the Belarusian Railway, as if to prove the attack took place. However, it's still too early to fully verify the events and it’s unclear whether it had a significant impact on the country’s infrastructure. A spokesperson for the Belarusian Cyber-Partisans group told Reuters the cyberattack intended to prevent the movement of freight trains carrying Russian troops, but that it was too early to say whether it was a success. Ars Technica noted that several services on the railway’s website, including ticket buying, were unavailable for so-called “technical reasons.”
Unless you’ve been living in a nuclear bunker for the past month, which perhaps isn't the stupidest idea, you’ll know this comes on the back of heated tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border. In recent weeks, Russia has placed more than 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and attempted to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, arousing suspicion they're preparing to launch an invasion. In response, NATO has reinforced troops in eastern Europe and the US has placed thousands of soldiers on heightened alert to deploy in case conflict breaks out.
Russia has a close, albeit sometimes strained, relationship with the former Soviet republic of Belarus, which shares a large border with Ukraine. The Washington Post reports that a significant number of Russian soldiers and military equipment have recently arrived in Belarus. Russia claims they are there as a joint military exercise planned for next month, but the US and other NATO members fear the troops have been placed to get a foothold to the north of Ukraine.
The situation is currently on tenterhooks, to put it mildly, but it looks certain to be a bumpy few months for the Russia-Ukraine border and beyond.