EU Ukraine

Civil society calls for solidarity with Ukraine’s human rights defenders in guarding against cyber threats

Update: February 24, 2022 — We stand with the people of Ukraine as they endure Russia’s large-scale military invasion targeting population centers across the country, alongside ongoing cyberattacks impacting critical services and infrastructure. Digital rights violations enable and escalate offline violence, and the calculated attacks targeting digital systems essential to people’s safety and wellbeing are unacceptable.

The international community must urgently take up the recommendations below in support of Ukraine’s civil society and those most at risk. All public and private entities operating in Ukraine that provide digital services and handle sensitive user data should urgently review their services for potential security and human rights issues, clearly communicate to their users any anticipated impacts to services, and consider the wellbeing of their staff and stakeholders amidst this crisis and in light of Russia’s apparent intentions to replace the Ukrainian government. We welcome initial efforts by tech companies, including Meta and Cloudflare, to implement extra security measures and set up Special Operation Centers that include language experts to help protect Ukrainian users. We encourage tech companies to take swift action enabling users to easily lock down or delete their accounts and data, and enhancing the security and resilience of networks, apps, and services, while keeping watch for campaigns of disinformation and abuse. We are also urging providers to ensure civil society voices in Ukraine, Russia, and beyond remain online, protecting them against censorship attempts.

In a statement issued today, Access Now, together with Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law and Digital Security Lab Ukraine, calls on the international community to take swift action in support of civil society in Ukraine, as well as the broader public whose human rights are being undermined by cyberattacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

Following the most recent cyberattacks on January 13-14 and February 15, 2022 targeting Ukraine’s essential public service infrastructure, and the ongoing threat of escalating Russian aggression, this is a critical moment for solidarity with Ukrainian civil society.

The statement calls for:

  1. Tech companies, nonprofits, and funders to provide direct support to journalists, civil society, and human rights defenders in strengthening their resilience against cyber threats;
  2. UN bodies and other international organizations to establish and uphold clear, people-first cybersecurity standards; and
  3. Policymakers, platforms, and other relevant stakeholders to guard against attempts to escalate and exploit current tensions.

For the last few months we observed significant escalation in digital attacks — malware, phishing, and account takeover attempts against independent media and civic society organizations in Ukraine,” said Vita Volodovska, Head of Digital Security Lab Ukraine. “Addressing these threats requires tech companies working closely with civil society to investigate the attacks and provide rapid-response emergency assistance to those at risk.”

Cyberwarfare is an assault on human rights, and has devastating effects on people’s privacy, freedom of expression, safety and security, and access to information. Cyberattacks can wipe essential systems such as electrical grids, hospitals, and governmental services offline, exacerbating tensions, worsening crises, and endangering lives.

Cyber operations targeting journalists, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders are particularly alarming and should be prohibited in all circumstances. Individuals who work in defense of civil liberties, rights, and democracy are themselves a form of critical infrastructure, often providing direct services and advocating for the needs of the most vulnerable.

“Cyberattacks are disrupting the ability of Ukrainians to seek medical care and obtain other essential services, and receive important information amidst the intensifying military conflict. The international community must act now to protect Ukraine’s critical infrastructure and human rights defenders from these attacks,” said Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Regional Outreach Coordinator for Eastern Europe & Central Asia at Access Now.

Read the full statement here.