Russian military hackers have targeted Ukrainian soldiers’ mobile devices in a bid to steal sensitive battlefield information that could aid the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, the US and its allies warned Thursday.
The new advisory from the US and its “Five Eyes” allies — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — corroborates a report from Ukraine’s SBU security service that found the Russian hackers sought to infiltrate the Android tablets that the Ukrainian military used for “planning and performing combat missions.”
The Russian hackers’ malicious code was designed to steal data sent from soldiers’ mobile devices to the Starlink satellite system made by billionaire Elon Musk’s company, according to the SBU. Starlink satellites have been crucial to Ukraine’s battlefield communications, CNN previously reported.
The news shows how the struggle to control sensitive military data in cyberspace has been a key front in Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine.
It’s unclear just how successful the hacking effort was. Ukraine’s SBU security service claimed to have “blocked” some of the hacking attempts but also conceded that the Russians had “captured” the tablets on the battlefield and planted malicious software on them.
“Mobile malware is particularly insidious because it can give intelligence services the physical locations of targets,” said John Hultquist, chief analyst at security firm Mandiant, which is owned by Google. That capability, Hultquist told CNN, can be “extremely effective on the battlefield.”
The hacking campaign comes amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has been a slow, grinding fight to push Russian forces back. US officials have expressed private concerns that Ukraine has been unable to make any substantial breakthroughs in months of fighting.
The hacking campaign “illustrates how Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine continues to play out in cyberspace,” Paul Chichester, director of operations at the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, said in a statement.
CNN’s Katie Bo Lillis contributed to this report.