Ukraine’s battle to protect the internet

A month into the Kremlin’s war, Ukrainian officials have taken solace that critical networks have withstood weeks of cyber assaults.

Our cyber security correspondent Mehul Srivastava interviewed several Ukrainian and western officials with direct knowledge of recent cyber attacks by Russian-affiliated groups, to provide a picture of the escalating digital assaults taking place and how they are being rebuffed.

TechFT also spoke with Volodymyr Lutchenko, the chief technology officer at Kyivstar, Ukraine’s biggest broadband and mobile carrier, whose employees have been working tirelessly to keep networks operating in spite of the Russian assault.

From an office in western Ukraine, he explained that there are two causes of network outages at the moment — power cuts and destruction of telecoms infrastructure at the hands of Russian forces.

Nearly 10 per cent of the company’s total network infrastructure has now been damaged or destroyed. Where Russian forces have taken hold, the company has lost coverage completely — it is no longer able to provide the internet to around 10,000 people across 20 Ukrainian cities, Lutchenko explained.

Russian troops are “systematically” destroying the company’s base stations and mobile towers “one by one” he said. “What I am seeing right now, is that these are intentional actions to destroy as much as they can.”

According to Netblocks, a watchdog that monitors cyber security and the governance of the internet, national connectivity is now at 75 per cent of prewar levels.

In one particularly devastating attack on March 7, the company lost connectivity across 330 sites in the south-eastern city of Zaporizhzhia after three separate fibre optic cables were destroyed by the Russian army.

Kyivstar’s engineers and contractors are continually repairing damaged infrastructure across besieged parts of the country, often working side by side and sharing equipment with rival carriers. “Right now, there is no such word as competition,” Lutchenko said.

All of these efforts, have managed to keep the nation’s networks up and running across most of the country, and for the majority of Ukrainians — both soldiers involved in the war effort and civilians who are determined to keep in contact with loved ones.

The Internet of (Four) Things

1. Years of bad blood between Uber and New York taxis look like they may be coming to an end after the tech company announced it would start listing the iconic yellow cab drivers on its app in its largest US market. The deal appears to be win-win: taxi drivers who use Creative Mobile Technologies’ system to process customer payments will be featured on Uber’s app, gaining access to its clientele, while Uber gets access to a huge pool of drivers at a time of nationwide shortages.

2. Apple has acquired UK-based fintech start-up Credit Kudos — a company that uses machine learning to create an alternative to traditional credit ratings. The move signals the iPhone maker is looking to push deeper into payments technology and that it may be planning to expand its lending services. Though Apple has moved more slowly into financial services than some in the banking industry feared when it launched Apple Pay, industry insiders have indicated that this acquisition could help it encroach further.

3. Advisory firm the Boston Consulting Group has sued the video game retailer GameStop — which rose to fame last year after becoming the darling of retail traders — over claims that it has not paid $30mn in bills. According to a complaint filed in US federal court, GameStop failed to take recommended actions for its turnround and “refused to pay significant amounts of BCG’s fees”.

4. The global umbrella organisation for securities regulators has warned in a report that decentralised finance contains myriad hidden conflicts and risks. Comparing the current rise of decentralised finance, or DeFi, to the dotcom bubble, Martin Moloney, secretary-general of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (Iosco), said its explosive growth warranted “closer attention by regulators”.

Tech tools

Bird Buddy, an innovative smart bird feeder that’s about to come to market, is fitted with a camera microphone and recognition technology. Based on looks and birdsong, it can identify more than 1,000 types of bird. Whenever a winged visitor takes a perch, it will send a notification to your phone, take a snap (its wide-angle lens captures amusing close-ups) and pinpoint the species so, like any self-respecting ornithologist, you’ll be able to tell your Eurasian nuthatch from your European robin. Founded by a trio of tech guys based in Slovenia, it’s available to pre-order now — in blue or canary yellow and with an optional solar-powered roof — and will ship in September. Bird Buddy, from $199 

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