Mystery of alleged Chinese hack on eve of Ukraine invasion

Image credit: The Times

As the recent conflict in Ukraine erupted, there have been allegations of Chinese cyber activities.

The details are exceptionally vague, but one Western intelligence officer believes the goal was espionage and that the cyber-attack was larger than previously disclosed.

According to the New York Times, on February 23, the day before the invasion, hackers allegedly headquartered in China began attacking Ukrainian websites.

This raised doubts about whether they were aware of Moscow’s preparations in advance and if their purpose was to aid Russia in some way.

Hackers are alleged to have targeted a wide range of Ukrainian government and commercial organisations, including nuclear power companies.

It’s unknown how far this activity went in terms of scanning the internet for vulnerabilities and how many websites were hacked.

The New York Times referenced intelligence papers, but the Ukrainian security service denied handing over anything and sought to downplay the revelations, further confusing the situation.

Some observers questioned whether they were concerned about offending Beijing.

The Chinese embassy in the UK denied the assertion on Monday, calling the Times report “sheer reckless talk” that was “not credible at all.”

Some Western officials, on the other hand, believe the story is even more complicated. According to them, Chinese actors then went on to attack systems in Russia, Belarus, and Poland.

Other oddities include the fact that the attacks were allegedly more amateurish and “noisy” than usual, almost as if the hackers were less anxious about being found.

China has consistently denied claims of cyber-espionage and has recently pointed the finger at Western governments, mainly the United States, for hacking into its networks.

So it’s plausible that China exploited the war to spy not just on Ukraine but also on Russia, Belarus, and other nations–may be under the guise of a “false flag” operation–to lay responsibility on Western governments.

That’s one possibility, but Beijing is likely to dismiss it. It can be difficult to figure out what is truly going on in this scenario.