Critical Infrastructure Security , Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime

Ukrainian City's Internet Rerouted Through Russian Telcos

SSSCIP Says Internet Disconnection Due to Fiber Optic Breakages, Power Outage
Ukrainian City's Internet Rerouted Through Russian Telcos
Source: ISMG

The Ukrainian city of Kherson was captured by Russian forces in the early hours of Feb. 25, 2022, and its internet and mobile services were soon disrupted. Turkey-founded internet access monitor Netblocks reports that Kherson faced a "near total" internet blackout on Saturday that cut off connectivity from Ukrainian service providers such as Ukrtelecom, Kyivstar and Volia. But services were restored on Sunday, albeit through regional Ukrainian provider Skynet - or Khersontelecom - and routed through Russia's Miranda and Rostelecom networks.

On April 30, Netblocks posted a tweet that said, "Confirmed: Metrics indicate that internet connectivity provider Skynet (Khersontelecom) in Russian-occupied Kherson, south Ukraine, has been partially restored and rerouted via Russia's Rostelecom instead of Ukrainian infrastructure."

The State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine - or SSSCIP - said the disconnection was "caused by line breakages at fiber optic backbones and by a power outage with service operators' equipment in these regions." It said that parts of the Zaporizhzhia region also experienced disruptions of online connection and mobile communication. The SSSCIP is a principal actor in the national cyber defense system.

In a tweet on Monday, Netblocks posted an image of the traceroute metrics showing how Skynet was routing traffic via Russia's Miranda and Rostelecom rather than Ukrainian telecom infrastructure.

Yuriy Schyhol, head of the State Special Communications Service, speaking at a briefing at Media Center Ukraine on Wednesday, said, "Since the beginning of the war, we have seen cyberattacks on major media. As of today, over 20 TV and radio transmitters have been destroyed. We saw what occupiers were doing to the communication infrastructure in Irpin and Bucha. Last week, reports came in about mobile and internet connection in Kherson region and parts of Zaporizhzhia oblasts being cut off by the Russian occupation army. The disconnection was caused by breakdowns of fiber-optic cables and cutoffs of power supply to operators' equipment in the area."

He said all mobile network operators have now restored connections in these oblasts, or regions, by using backup power supply channels.

"It is quite difficult. Communication experts, including mobile network operators, are working under fire," Schyhol said.

He added, "They are blocking our communication channels and trying to spread only Russian services. This is a blatant violation of international law, and we have already asked the International Telecommunication Union to condemn Russia's actions and strip them of the membership in the union."

Not the First Time

Attacks on Ukraine's internet infrastructure have been occurring ever since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. On that day, the American Viasat satellite network, which serves much of Ukraine and Europe, was taken offline due to a cyberattack (see: Russia May Have Caused Widespread Satellite Network Outage).

Viasat subsequently reported on March 1 that the partial network outage was affecting "internet service for fixed broadband customers in Ukraine and elsewhere" that rely on the Viasat telecommunications satellite known as KA-SAT, which serves 55 countries across Europe and part of the Middle East. It blamed the disruption on a cyber event that it said remained under investigation.

Netblocks also confirms a series of significant disruptions to internet service in Ukraine beginning Feb. 24. It says disruptions have subsequently been tracked across much of Ukraine, including the capital city of Kyiv, as Russia's military operation progresses.

On the morning of Feb. 24, internet disruptions were registered in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

Netblocks has also reported internet disruptions in other Ukrainian cities, such as Mariupol, Kyiv, Sievierodonetsk, Zaporizhzhia and other regions within Ukraine.

Starlink Alternative

Faced with intermittent and frequent disruptions, the Ukrainian government contacted Tesla chief Elon Musk and requested that he provide Starlink satellite internet services in Ukraine. An April 29 report from SSSCIP, shared with ISMG, says: "At the SSSCIP initiative, the National Commission for the State Regulation of Electronic Communications, Radiofrequency Spectrum and the Provision of Postal Services together with the vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov's team adopted a decision allowing everyone to use Starlink terminals across the country during the martial law period."

Thousands of Starlink devices have been delivered to Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion so that they could be used at critical infrastructure facilities.

The government has also initiated the Starlink terminal assessment and certification procedure as well as legislative regulation around Starlink's operating frequency resource. This is a mandatory requirement for Starlink terminals to be commercially available in Ukraine and to become fully accessible by Ukrainian citizens.

Senior correspondent Mihir Bagwe contributed to this story.

About the Author

Brian Pereira

Brian Pereira

Sr. Director - Editorial, ISMG

Pereira has nearly three decades of journalism experience. He is the former editor of CHIP, InformationWeek and CISO MAG. He has also written for The Times of India and The Indian Express.

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