Impact of the Ukraine Campaign on Northern Devon – Cyber Attacks

North Devon Gazette

We are already beginning to see the real impact on this subregion from the war in Ukraine. Who could have anticipated such dramatic price increases in the energy market?  Â

All of us are affected by this. The whole community is now trapped in the cycle of unprecedented rises in fuel prices and also the costs of heating our homes and business premises. At this time, there is no real ability to anticipate how long these massive price spikes will continue or whether we will have to endure them for months to come.Â

We are also becoming aware of what the impact is likely to be from inflation. Some of the dire predictions about the cost of food increasing need to be taken very seriously. As has been well publicised, Ukraine/ Russia is the “bread basket” of Europe, supplying 30% of all wheat production and around 80% of sunflower oil. Any dislocation to these markets will take time to repair, in the interim it is inevitable that costs will continue to rise.Â

There is a third war front which is far more sinister and largely invisible. This is cyber warfare. For years we have known that cyber criminals have become increasingly more efficient and pose a real threat to all of our businesses, big and small. It is perhaps less well known that these are not just cyber gangs but, in many cases, state-sponsored organisations. Russia has had its finger prints on many of these criminal gangs for the last 10 years or more.Â

It is easy to predict that as the Russia economy implodes due to Global sanctions, they will resort to any means to bolster their economy.Â

It has been discovered in the last week in Ukraine that a new attack has been launched by Russia, known as “Wiperware”. This is a form of malware which permanently deletes data on infected computers. It can very efficiently delete computer networks by destroying crucial files on command.  Â
The Russians have been trying to deploy this to disrupt infrastructure across Ukraine. To date, this has been matched by the skills of Global experts. The US has been helping Ukraine by bolstering its cyber defences. The first attacks by Russia were in 2015, leaving part of the Ukraine capital Kyiv without electricity for hours. The effect of this on huge networks, such as the rail industry, financial institutions, pipelines, aviation and utility supplies, could be devastating.Â

It is easy to predict that malware such as this could be easily deployed to attack many of our UK businesses. You may remember the notorious Conti criminal ransomware group, who successfully attacked the Irish Healthcare Service.  Â

It is not just Wiperware that we should worry about. It is now clear that passwords and passcodes are not sufficient to remain safe. Simple apps deployed by smartphones can easily defeat two factor authentication. Here, again, ramping up this seems a very likely consequence as Russia struggles to raise cash from legitimate sources. Â

In truth, we have become too complacent about these threats. The pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to this. Similarly, online retailing has become common place. Too often, we have been casual about security, in short, poor cyber hygiene makes all our businesses highly vulnerable.Â

It is naïve to assume that it is only small and medium size businesses who are vulnerable. A cyber-attack last week on a supplier shut down operations at all Toyota’s plants in Japan. Car makers have traditionally worked with very small inventories and rely upon just-in-time delivery systems.  Â

The effect on one day’s production (from 14 different productions sites around Japan) halted the completion of 13,000 cars. It also had a ripple effect on around 400 of its suppliers, whose businesses were also paralysed. Japan has been targeted before, the Mizuho Bank suffered its eleventh attack last week, disrupting all of its AMT outlets. All this despite the expenditure of $3.6 billion for a recent systems overhaul. Â

It is estimated that the volume of cyber-attacks Globally more than doubled last year. The financial impact of this was a cost estimated at $6 trillion for the year. The problem is perhaps a lot worse than this as many crimes are not reported. Â

If, as seems very likely, the Ukraine war increases these threats, then it is one of the highest business priorities that security systems should be upgraded. In-house interventions can be effective, this relies upon all personnel from the top to the bottom of the organisation having a robust discipline when online. This must apply whether working from the office or remotely. Â

The South West Business Council regard this threat as so serious that we are working with the combined Regional Police Authorities to significantly extend the operation of the South West Cyber Resilience Centre. This organisation is already up and running. Â

In addition, however, to its operation being the sole responsibility of the Police Authorities, we are proposing to create a partnership with business so that the combined resources right across the region can be deployed in a cooperative format. This will undoubtedly increase our ability to provide a Cyber Shield. It will also enable the development of a Cyber Defence Toolkit. Any business interested is now invited to join this partnership initiative.