A massive cyberattack on Friday left Ukraine’s government websites temporarily unavailable, officials said.

The disturbance came amid increased tensions with Russia and after this week’s talks between Moscow and the West made no significant progress.

Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) said late Friday that it saw some signs the attack was linked to hacker groups linked to Russian intelligence agencies.

“All the details of the incident will be documented as part of the previously opened criminal proceedings. So far we can say that there are some indications of involvement in the incident by hacker groups linked to the special services of the Russian Federation,” SBU said in a statement.

Moscow has previously denied involvement in cyber attacks on Ukraine.

The hackers appear to have used the software management rights of a third-party company that developed the sites, a senior Ukrainian security official told Reuters late Friday.

“According to the preliminary conclusions of our experts… today’s attack occurred due to third-party use of access to the software management rights of a company that had an advantage in developing websites for government agencies,” said Serhiy Demedyuk, Deputy Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security – and Defense Council said in written comments.

“The specified software has been used since 2016 to create websites for government agencies, most of whom were victims of today’s incident,” said Demedyuk, who was the head of Ukraine’s cyber police.

He did not name the third party.

The websites of the cabinet, seven ministries, the ministry of finance, the national emergency service and the government services website that store Ukrainians’ e-passports and vaccination cards were temporarily unavailable on Friday as a result of the hack.

The websites contained a message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish stating that the Ukrainians’ personal information had been leaked.

“Have fear and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future,” the message read, in part.

Ukraine’s security service said no personal information was leaked. Most of the affected sites were restored later Friday and no critical infrastructure was affected.

An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have gathered on Ukraine’s borders [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have been running high in recent months after Moscow massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, fueling fears of an invasion.

Moscow said it had no plans to attack and dismissed Washington’s demand to withdraw its forces, saying it had the right to deploy them where needed.

The Kremlin has required security guarantees from the West that NATO is denying membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and is rolling back the Alliance’s military operations in Central and Eastern Europe. Washington and its allies have declined to make such pledges but said they are ready for the talks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that “NATO and Ukraine will sign an agreement on enhanced cyber cooperation in the coming days, including Ukraine’s access to NATO’s malware intelligence platform.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc is ready to mobilize resources to improve Ukraine’s ability to withstand cyberattacks. “Unfortunately, we expected this to happen,” he said.

When asked who might be behind the attack, Borrell said, “I can’t point to anyone because I don’t have evidence, but you can imagine.”

Russia has a long history of aggressive cyber operations against Ukraine, including hacking its voting system ahead of the 2014 national elections and attacking the country’s power grid in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, Russia unleashed one of the most damaging cyberattacks of all time, the NotPetya virus, which targeted Ukrainian companies and caused more than $10 billion in damage worldwide.

In another development, Russia said on Friday it had dismantled prominent hacking group REvil, which carried out a high-profile attack on IT software firm Kaseya last year at the request of Washington.

Cyber ​​security was one of the main topics on the agenda of a summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden last June.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement it had “suppressed the illegal activities” of members of the group in raids on 25 addresses, in which 14 people were arrested.

The searches were carried out after an “appeal by the relevant US authorities”.

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