Published on March 3, 2014
Russia's first targets in Ukraine: its cell phones and Internet lines. The Russian forces occupying Crimea are jamming cell phones and severing Internet connections between the peninsula and the rest of Ukraine. Moscow hasn't succeeded in imposing an information blackout, but the attacks could be sign that Russia is looking to escalate its military operations against the new government in Kiev without firing a shot. Russia has a history of launching cyber-attacks on its neighbors with the aim of disrupting the countries' ability to communicate to their citizens and with the outside world. One attack in 2008, during Russia's war with Georgia, accompanied a ground-based military assault and was intended to disrupt government and media communications. Although the efforts in Crimea so far have failed to choke the region's communications lines, experts are concerned that the strikes could be a precursor to damaging Russian cyber attacks on communications infrastructure elsewhere in Ukraine, particularly if tensions escalate or Russian military forces push beyond Crimea. Disrupting Internet service or knocking out Ukrainian government Web sites would allow Russia to flex its muscle without necessarily drawing a military response from Kiev or its Western allies. The new strikes appear to have been conducted mostly by hand rather than by hackers, but they have the same goal. On Monday, Reuters reported that Russian military forces were blocking mobile telephone services in some parts of Crimea. Russian naval vessels were seen moving into and around the port at Sevastopol. Russian navy ships are known to carry jamming equipment that can block phone and radio signals. Two Crimean government Web portals were also offline; it was unclear whether they'd been taken down by government officials or had been hit with a malicious cyber-attack.