Staying safe online in wartime

Avast 21 Mar 2022

Learn how to keep your system safe from hacks and cybercrimes related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Global conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine, often have a corresponding cyberwar that can affect digital citizens across the globe. As on-the-ground invasions persist, the effects of cyberattacks can easily expand beyond the borders of conflict. 

During the past few weeks, there have been increases in cyberattacks that are both related and unrelated to Ukraine. While experts believe that large-scale cyberattacks aren’t likely to be launched against NATO countries for fear of retaliation, any would-be attacker can still take advantage of the confusion and disruption of war. 

For this reason, it's important to take a look at your personal security stance.

There have already been a number of instances in which attackers are preying on the chaos of wartime. Russian nation-state hacking groups have attacked Ukrainian organizations with HermeticWiper, a data-destroying malware. This malware, for which Avast Threat Labs was the first provider to provide a free decryptor, could be appropriated and used in attacks against other targets outside of the scope of war. Furthermore, as groups such as Anonymous and Conti have vowed to go to war to support Ukraine and Russia, respectively, any attacks could affect groups other than their intended targets. 

“Every organization – large and small – must be prepared to respond to disruptive cyber activity,” wrote the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in a rare “Shields Up” bulletin warning all organizations to adopt a heightened cybersecurity posture while the conflict is ongoing. Cyber warfare is in full effect, and everyone worldwide needs protection. 

Spillover attacks, such as phishing attacks, charity scams, and password stealers have been observed in relation to the war, which hit non-primary targets like smaller businesses that happen to be associated with or linked to the major targets. Cybercriminals often take advantage of these tumultuous moments to launch attacks that play on confusion and people’s desire to aid victims.  

One trend affecting individuals that has already emerged from the conflict is a call for “hacktivist” DDoS attacks against Russian targets. Consumers are encouraged to help Ukraine by volunteering their devices to take part in cyberattacks on Russian sites. Looking closer at the “simple tools” allowing users to participate in this “hacktivism,” Avast Threat Labs found that the software was not, in fact, safe. It collected users’ personal information and it was not encrypted. While these tools may have been designed and used for a good cause, they were not secure. We saw that 900 of our Avast users in Ukraine downloaded this software, so we issued a warning against it.

Now, if a cybercriminal had planted malware in those tools, in an attempt to take advantage of people who were just trying to help, our users would have been protected by Avast Free Antivirus, part of the protection Avast One offers and winner of PCMag Editors’ Choice Award for 2021. Our antivirus detects malware and isolates it before it can cause any harm.

In times such as these, individuals and families need to stay safe as well, no matter where they are located. This is because the internet is globally connected, which means that anyone who is connected to a compromised network can become a victim as well. Avast observed exactly this during the 2017 Petna ransomware attacks, which targeted Ukrainians but spread to users worldwide. That’s where a comprehensive security and privacy protection tool can help. 

During times of upheaval and chaos, opportunistic criminals may increase their attempts to attack internet users on unsecured or free Wi-Fi connections. A VPN, which is also part of Avast One’s features, can help protect you by encrypting your internet communications and masking your location. 

We agree with CISA that now is a time that everyone needs their “shields up.” The conflict in Ukraine will most likely get worse before it gets better. 

Protect yourself and your loved ones now with strong cybersecurity that both provides device protection and secures your online privacy.

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