KIEV (Reuters) - State-sponsored Russian hackers are using a new type of virus designed to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure such as the power grid and financial system, a senior Ukrainian state security official said on Wednesday.
Called “telebots”, the new viruses are not like ordinary malware, designed for example to steal personal data, but are tailor-made to attack specific institutions, Oleksandr Tkachuk, Ukraine’s security service chief of staff, said at a televised news conference.
Tkachuk said the attacks were orchestrated by the Russian security service in collusion with private software companies and criminal hackers, and looked like they were designed by the same people who created a malware called “BlackEnergy”.
Kiev has accused Russia of waging a “cyber war” on Ukraine, as relations between the two countries collapsed after Moscow’s annexaton of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of Russian-backed separatist fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was not available for immediate comment. Russia has repeatedly denied hacking accusations, which also roiled the U.S. presidential race.
“We received information that not only the staff of Russian special services are involved in the attacks, but also private IT companies and criminal groups of hackers from the territory of the Russian Federation,” Tkachuk said without giving an exact time frame.
The virus code was designed to target industrial processes by attacking specific parts of industrial infrastructure, he said. As an example, he said that the code included modules designed to harm specific equipment inside the electric grid.
Ukraine says it is coming under increasing cyber attacks from Russia -- 6,500 of them in November and December alone. In a recent interview, President Petro Poroshenko called for a global response led by Washington.
Ukraine blamed hackers for knocking out part of Kiev’s power grid in December, and for attacks on the defence and finance ministries and the State Treasury, which allocates cash to state institutions.
“Russian hackers and Infobots become an important tool of the aggression against our country,” Tkachuk said.
“This is confirmed by our colleagues from NATO and the EU, who have recently been reporting an increasing number of attacks on critical infrastructure of the NATO and EU countries by Russia or from the territory of the Russian Federation.”
Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Dominic Evans