As cyberattack hit, Ukrainians turned to Facebook and Google – Houston Chronicle

An employee of the Ukrainian Cyberpolice Department leaves the headquarters in Kiev. Silicon Valley companies helped keep information flowing during the cyberattack.

An employee of the Ukrainian Cyberpolice Department leaves the…

BORYSPIL, Ukraine – When departure information disappeared from the website of the main airport serving Kiev after last week’s cyberattack, employees trained a camera on the departure board and broadcast it to YouTube. When government servers were switched off, officials posted updates to Facebook. And office workers turned to Gmail to keep businesses going.

As Ukraine’s digital infrastructure shuddered under the weight of last week’s cyberattack, Silicon Valley companies played an outsize role in keeping information flowing, an illustration both of their vast reach and their unofficial role as a kind of emergency backup system. Google’s mail service has been keeping the lights on at some firms after their email servers went down, while Facebook is credited as a critical platform for digital first responders.

“Our war room, nationwide, migrated to Facebook,” said Andrey Chigarkin, the chief information security officer at a Kiev-based gaming company and an active participant in the early hours of the online response. “All the news – bad, good – was coming through Facebook.”

Facebook has a relatively low take-up in Ukraine, counting between 8 to 9 million monthly active users, compared with 10 to 15 million in Poland, a neighbor of roughly the same size, according to figures provided by analytics firm SocialBakers. But it’s still a powerful medium there and is credited with being an accelerant for the protest movement that toppled the Russia-friendly leader Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. Today, government agencies regularly post official statements to their Facebook walls and press officers eschew emails to chat with journalists over Facebook Messenger.

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“Facebook in Ukraine is a big thing,” said Dmytro Shymkiv, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration and a former director of Microsoft Ukraine.

Shymkiv was among the many officials to post updates about the outbreak as it happened (to Facebook, naturally). In an interview at his office, he said that the cloud – a marketing term for the pool of sometimes free computing power offered by the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and many others – provided the safety and redundancy that many businesses in Ukraine lacked.

“It’s a global backup,” he said, adding that, as a former tech executive, he knew that Silicon Valley companies put an “enormous focus on the security of the cloud services.”

Private businesses and government offices are still relying at least in part on Silicon Valley companies’ email and chat services, mainly as a substitute for downed mail servers.

Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan said the outbreak had shown that the Silicon Valley’s “cloud” was much more resilient “than a Ukrainian physical server standing alone in a post office,” a reference to one of Ukraine’s worst-hit agencies.

But he expressed reservations about leaning too heavily on American computing power in times of need. After all, what would happen if a differently tailored cyberattack brought the cloud crashing down?

“Definitely we should build a much more sustainable network in case of emergency,” he said. “We cannot just rely on Facebook as a backup.”

Officials said Wednesday that Ukraine dodged a second cyberattack this week.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the second strike – like the first one – originated from servers at the Ukrainian tax software company M.E. Doc, which sheds a little more light on Tuesday’s heavily armed raid on M.E. Doc’s office and the seizure of its servers. Police said there were no arrests.

Ukraine has blamed Russia for the chaos. Kremlin officials routinely deny claims of electronic interference in Ukraine and elsewhere.

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As cyberattack hit, Ukrainians turned to Facebook and Google – Houston Chronicle

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