The recent incidents at the Russian Embassy and the Russian ambassador’s embarrassing interview on RTE could encourage Russian hackers to launch a cyberattack on Ireland, a cybersecurity expert has said.
Kevin O’Loughlin, CEO of Nostra, said Russian hackers have been looking to cause damage to Western countries rather than make money since Russia invaded Ukraine.
He said Ireland is seen as an easy target – and some Russian-based hackers may choose to target Ireland because of public displays of support for Ukraine here.
He said: “Cybergangs use all their strength and power to attack anything in the West.
“Ireland is in the West. The protests from the Russian Embassy and the broadcast of the Russian Ambassador’s interview are helping to inflame the opinion of the (Russian) people on Ireland.
“Ireland is the center and seat of many global organizations. As a nation profile, we are a relatively small country but a big global personality. This means that we are seen as an easy target.
Mr O’Loughlin said the hackers intended to cause damage and not receive a ransom.
He said: “Historically it was all about the money. Like the HSE attack, the hackers encrypt all data and charge the HSE a fee to recover the data.
“There is some chance of recovering the data.
“What we’re seeing in the market now is that it’s about damage.
“They are not looking for a ransom. They simply erase the data and it will never be recovered. It’s a much more serious scenario.
“The attacking profile and style that is happening now is much more serious than before because it’s not driven by money. It’s harder to recover from and that’s a big concern.
Mr O’Loughlin said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had split the pirates into warring factions.
The Conti gang, which was responsible for the HSE attack, has split into supporters and opponents of Russia while Anonymous, whose members call themselves hacktivists, has declared a cyberwar on the Russian government.
He said everyone should be aware of the risk of cyber attacks, as many are due to human error.
He said: “The weakest link in the chain is the people. A huge number of hacks are due to human error.
“It’s an attack on an individual, like a new employee of an organization who receives an email from someone they think is the CEO asking them to do something.
“They are targeted because they are new and trying to impress. And they let someone into the network.
“There are cyberattacks every day in Ireland at different levels.”
Meanwhile, Dr Tom Clonan said Ireland could be a target for Russian hackers because the headquarters of tech and social media companies are based here.
Dr Clonan, a security analyst and Seanad by-election candidate, said the Russian invasion of Ukraine had sparked an information war.
He said: “Ireland owns 30% of all data in Europe. We have over 50 data centers across the country and Ireland is the digital link between the US and Europe.
“All the big multinationals are here and for that reason we are a big target.
“This is how ordinary Russians can find out what is happening in Ukraine.
“Much of the war in Ukraine is information warfare. Digital platforms are key to winning the information war.
“Ireland is home to most of these digital platforms, so we are a big target.
“We are the only country in the EU that does not have a real cyber defense.
“We are the only country in Europe without cyber defense.
“The position of head of the National Cybersecurity Center is vacant. Defense Force cybersecurity experts are lost to poor pay and conditions.
“And the gardai are extremely underfunded. It’s not the fault of any of these people, it’s the lack of government investment in this area.
“Those two things together put us right in the line of fire.”
Dr Clonan said Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin had successfully censored ordinary Russians’ access to news and information to date.
He said: “Putin and the Kremlin have managed to spread false information about what is happening in Ukraine.
“They describe the leaders as fascists who are holding Ukrainians captive and Russian soldiers have come in to free them.
“We know that’s not true in the West because we have free access to information.
“If the Russian people knew what was going on and knew the whole truth, support for Putin and those around him could evaporate.
“Information warfare is in the cyber domain. We’ve been targeted before, like the Wizard Spider attack last year. These people have no morals.
“We really need to invest in our defenses and our neutrality. If we don’t, we can’t say we’re neutral.
Last week the Central Bank of Ireland wrote to all banks and financial institutions in Ireland regarding cybersecurity.
He warned businesses to be aware of the significant increase in the cyber threat landscape resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to remain on heightened alert in the event of a cyber attack.