Ukrainian ser­vices hit by virus jury-rigged Face­book, Google

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - RAPHAEL SATTER

BORYSPIL, Ukraine — When de­par­ture in­for­ma­tion dis­ap­peared from Kiev air­port’s web­site af­ter last month’s cy­ber­at­tack, em­ploy­ees trained a cam­era on the de­par­ture board and broad­cast it to YouTube. When gov­ern­ment servers were switched off, of­fi­cials posted up­dates to Face­book. And with the dis­rup­tion con­tin­u­ing, of­fice work­ers have turned to Gmail to keep their busi­nesses go­ing.

As Ukraine’s dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture shud­dered un­der the weight of the June 27 cy­ber­at­tack, Silicon Val­ley firms played an out­size role in keep­ing in­for­ma­tion flow­ing, an il­lus­tra­tion both of their vast reach and their un­of­fi­cial role as a kind of emer­gency backup sys­tem. Google’s mail ser­vice has been help­ing some firms stay open af­ter their email servers crashed, while Face­book is cred­ited as a crit­i­cal plat­form for dig­i­tal first re­spon­ders.

“Our war room, na­tion­wide, mi­grated to Face­book,” said An­drey Chi­garkin, the chief in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity of­fi­cer at a Kiev-based gam­ing firm and ac­tive par­tic­i­pant in the early hours of the on­line re­sponse. “All the news — bad, good — was com­ing through Face­book.”

Face­book has a rel­a­tively low pop­u­lar­ity in Ukraine, count­ing be­tween 8 mil­lion to 9 mil­lion monthly ac­tive users com­pared to 10 mil­lion to 15 mil­lion in Poland, a neigh­bor of roughly the same size, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by an­a­lyt­ics firm So­cialBak-

ers. But it’s still a pow­er­ful medium there and is cred­ited with be­ing an ac­cel­er­ant for the protest move­ment that top­pled the Rus­sia-friendly leader Vik­tor Yanukovich in 2014. Today, gov­ern­ment agen­cies reg­u­larly post of­fi­cial state­ments to their Face­book walls, and press of­fi­cers es­chew emails to chat with jour­nal­ists over Face­book Mes­sen­ger.

“Face­book in Ukraine is a big thing,” said Dmytro Shymkiv, the deputy head of Ukraine’s pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion and a for­mer di­rec­tor of Mi­crosoft Ukraine.

Shymkiv was among the many of­fi­cials who turned to Face­book to post up­dates about the out­break as it hap­pened. In an in­ter­view at his of­fice, he said “the cloud” — a mar­ket­ing term for the pool of some­times free com­put­ing power of­fered by the likes of Google, Face­book, Mi­crosoft, Ama­zon and many oth­ers — pro­vided the safety and re­dun­dancy that many busi­nesses in Ukraine lacked.

“It’s a global backup,” he said, adding that, as a for­mer tech ex­ec­u­tive, he knew that Silicon Val­ley firms put an “enor­mous fo­cus on the se­cu­rity of the cloud ser­vices.”

Pri­vate busi­nesses and even gov­ern­ment of­fices are still re­ly­ing at least in part on Silicon Val­ley firms’ email and chat ser­vices, mainly as a sub­sti­tute for downed mail servers. Vic­tor Zhora, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Kiev-based In­fos­afe, said two of the firms he’s help­ing to re­cover from the out­break have switched to Gmail as they try to get back on their feet. In one pe­di­atric clinic in the Kharkivskyi area of Kiev, Dr. Lidiia Pod­kopaieva said staff turned to Face­book-owned What­sApp to co­or­di­nate their work at the fa­cil­ity af­ter half their com­put­ers were wiped out.

Some work­arounds were more cre­ative than oth­ers.

At Boryspil Air­port, out­side Kiev, of­fi­cials faced a quandary when they switched off their au­to­mated sys­tems dur­ing the at­tack. Al­though the air­port was op­er­at­ing smoothly, anx­ious pas­sen­gers could no longer ac­cess de­par­ture in­for­ma­tion from the Web.

“So in front of the de­par­ture board we set up a we­b­cam which broad­cast the board to the Web and to our Face­book page,” se­nior air­port of­fi­cial Yevhenii Dykhne said in an in­ter­view last week. “We got 10,000 views on YouTube.”

In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Volodymyr Omelyan said the out­break had shown that the Silicon Val­ley’s cloud was much more re­silient “than a Ukrainian phys­i­cal server stand­ing alone in a post of­fice,” a ref­er­ence to one of Ukraine’s worst-hit agen­cies.

But he ex­pressed reser­va­tions about lean­ing too heav­ily on Amer­i­can com­put­ing power in times of need. Af­ter all, what would hap­pen if a dif­fer­ently tai­lored cy­ber­at­tack brought the cloud crash­ing down?

“Def­i­nitely we should build a much more sus­tain­able net­work in case of emer­gency,” he said. “We can­not just rely on Face­book as a backup.”


Pas­sen­gers board a sub­way train in Kiev, Ukraine, on June 28, a day af­ter a cy­ber­at­tack par­a­lyzed many com­puter sys­tems.

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