Italy’s Five Star Movement has risen to global prominence more for the colorful oddness of its founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, than for the seriousness of its populist policies.

Italy Starts Handing Out Free Money

Italy's welfare revolution kicks off as 'citizens' income' goes live | Euronews
EuronewsItaly’s welfare revolution kicks off as ‘citizens’ income’ goes live | Euronews

Five Star’s “citizens’ income” has noble aims, but it risks getting bogged down by its own complexity and the country’s famously inefficient bureaucracy – AIWA! NO!

ROME (Reuters) –  Italy’ss flagship welfare reform kicked off in a busy but orderly fashion on Wednesday as thousands of poor and unemployed people applied in post offices and tax assistance centres for the “citizens’ income” scheme. 

Italy’s new “citizen’s income” has little of the revolutionary spirit of Milton Friedman.

The populist 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League and has long promoted the measure, hopes it will lift its flagging fortunes ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

Italy’s Five Star Movement has risen to global prominence more for the colorful oddness of its founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, than for the seriousness of its populist policies.

Bloomberg Opinion

Despite a steady flow of applicants, warnings of chaos and long queues proved misplaced, as many people appeared to heed advice not to sign up on the scheme’s first day.

“This is so helpful, it will give me some breathing space to get to the end of each month,” said 36-year-old Svetlana Guerra as she left a small tax assistance center (CAF) in a densely populated quarter of south-eastern Rome.

Guerra, a Ukrainian-born widow who has lived in Italy for 19 years and survives thanks to odd jobs paid under the counter, said she expected the citizens’ income to give her about 280 euros ($315) per month to help her pay her rent.

Guerra is one of millions struggling to make ends meet in a country in its third recession in 10 years and where the economy has barely grown since the start of the century.

Eleonora Tonnicodi, who runs the center with just one assistant, said they had helped some 20 people apply for the new scheme in the first two hours of the morning.

Applicants can apply until the end of March and, if successful, the first month’s money will be paid in May.

Giuseppe Calafiore, a 66-year-old unemployed car mechanic, said he had no income and he and his wife were surviving on her disability pension of 780 euros per month.

“I’ve come to find out if I’m eligible …because it would at least help until I can get a (state) pension next year,” he said.Slideshow (2 Images)


Italians in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money to buy a basket of basic goods and services, rose to 5.1 million in 2017, according to statistics office ISTAT. That is a more than threefold increase in a decade.

Italy has traditionally had a generous pension system and offered limited-term state benefits for those laid off from work, but until last year it was virtually unique among rich countries in having no means-tested welfare scheme.

The previous center-left government aimed to fill that gap, but the “inclusion income” program it launched ahead of elections a year ago set aside just 2 billion euros and was widely deemed inadequate.

The citizens’ income, a rallying call for 5-Star since its foundation in 2009, will cost 7 billion euros this year and is expected to go initially to 2.7 million people, according to ISTAT.

Critics say Italy’s strained public finances cannot afford it.

The 5-Star Movement was easily the biggest party at the March 2018 national election but has seen its support slide since then and been overtaken in opinion polls by the League.

“The state is finally taking care of the invisible ones… who have been on the fringes of this country and the political debate,” said 5-Star leader and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Reporting By Gavin Jones; editing by John Stonestreet

Top Catholic cardinal admits church destroyed documents on clergy sexual abuse

Germany top Catholic cardinal admits church destroyed documents on clergy sexual abuse

Catholic News Agency
Cardinal Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, in Rome March 12, 2013.
Catholic News AgencyCardinal Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, in Rome March 12, 2013.

Catholic cardinal: Potential proof of abuse destroyed – Daniel Burke and Rosa Flores, CNN (AIWA! NO!)

Rome (CNN)In a remarkable admission, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Saturday that documents that could have contained proof of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were destroyed or never drawn up.

“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created,” said Marx, the archbishop of Munich and president of the German Bishops’ Conference.”

The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution offences were deliberately not complied with,” he added, “but instead cancelled and overridden.

“Such standard practices will make it clear that it is not transparency which damages the church, but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency, or the ensuing coverup.”

Marx’s stunning admission came on the third day of a historic Vatican summit focused on combating clergy sexual abuse. The day’s theme was transparency, which Marx said could help to tackle abuse of power. A member of Pope Francis’ inner circle of advisers, Marx is one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church.

The four-day summit of 190 Catholic leaders, including 114 bishops from around the world, will conclude Sunday with an address by Pope Francis. On Thursday, at the beginning of the unprecedented summit, Francis urged the bishops to take “concrete measures” to combat the clergy abuse scandal.

At a press conference later Saturday, Marx said that the information about destroying files came from a study commissioned by German bishops in 2014. The study was “scientific” and did not name the particular church leaders or dioceses in Germany that destroyed the files.”

The study indicates that some documents were manipulated or did not contain what they should have contained,” Marx said. “The fact in itself cannot be denied.”Marx said he doubts the destruction of files related to clergy sexual abuse was limited to one diocese.”I assume Germany is not an isolated case.”

The report commissioned by the German bishops also revealed that “at least” 3,677 cases of child sex abuse by German clergy occurred between 1946 and 2014.

CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Livvy Doherty contributed to this report.

Opening summit, Pope urges ‘concrete, effective measures’ on abuse

ROME: Has The Vatican finally find its divine moral voice? Pope Francis resolves cleaning up the clergy sex abuse infested church

Will Vatican snatch defeat from jaws of victory at anti-abuse summit?

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, right, leaves at the end of the first day of a sex abuse summit within the Catholic Church at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2019. (Credit: Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP.)

Will Vatican snatch defeat from jaws of victory at anti-abuse summit? – John L. Allen Jr., EDITOR, CRUX

Catholic Church Leaders in Pennsylvania Hid Child Sexual Abuse for 70 Years

Jezebel, Catholic Church Leaders in Pennsylvania Hid Child Sexual Abuse for 70 Years

ROME (AIWA! NO!) – Over the years, the Vatican has demonstrated a fairly remarkable capacity from a PR point of view to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – striving to offer the world good news about the pope and the Church, only to find a way to step on that story and turn it into something else.

One thinks, for instance, about a wave of sexual abuse scandals that swept Ireland and then much of Europe in 2009 and 2010, which actually triggered real reform in Catholicism and revealed Pope Benedict XVI as an honest-to-God change agent.

Nevertheless, that storyline was basically hijacked when Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s former Secretary of State and Dean of the College of Cardinals, called the complaints of abuse survivors “petty gossip” during an Easter Sunday homily.

It’s still early in the game, but there have already been hints during this week’s high-profile summit on clerical sexual abuse that the Vatican may find ways to take our eyes off the prize this time too.

To begin with, despite efforts in the run-up to this gathering of presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world to lower expectations – or, as Pope Francis himself put it, to “deflate” expectations – the Vatican certainly isn’t treating this as business as usual. They’re offering daily briefings with A-list personalities, livestreaming much of the proceedings, and issuing most materials in multiple languages.

Vatican officials are investing that much energy, obviously, because they think this is a big deal – a sign of seriousness and resolve about cleaning up the mess caused by the abuse crisis, and therefore an event that ought to put the Church in a positive light.

Yet there have also been hiccups, some of which could metastasize into real distractions.

For instance, earlier this week the Vatican Press Office issued a “media kit” for coverage of the summit, which included a timeline on the abuse scandals. When the Italian version of that kit was released electronically on Wednesday, it included a reference to the criminal conviction of a senior Church official for sexual abuse that’s actually still covered by a judicial gag order in the country in which the trial took place.

Asked about it by reporters, a flummoxed spokesperson said that the media kit couldn’t be taken as an “official position” of the Vatican – as if anyone had ever asked what the Vatican’s “position” was on a point of fact rather than Church teaching – and also insisted that the Vatican had no intention of defying the gag order, despite the fact that was self-evidently what they had just done.

Very quickly, that item was redacted in the electronic edition of the media kit, eliminating any reference to the conviction. On that front the Vatican largely managed to dodge the bullet, since no one really picked up on the brief-lived faux pas.

Seemingly more serious was a series of 21 “points of reflection” the Vatican released on Thursday, described as things Francis wants the assembled bishops to think about based on input from “various episcopal commissions and conferences.”

Two points caused immediate consternation, especially among abuse survivors on hand in Rome.

One point read, “The principle of the presumption of innocence in natural and canon law must also be safeguarded until there is proof of the guilt of the accused,” recommending, therefore, against release of the names of priests accused of sexual abuse ahead of a “definitive condemnation.”

The document said it was “necessary to prevent” the publication of such lists, “even by dioceses.” If taken seriously, that could invalidate the practice in most American dioceses of releasing names when an accusation is found to be credible, even if a final verdict either hasn’t yet been reached or a legal proceeding isn’t possible.

In fairness, Francis did say these were only things to think about, not intended to “detract from the creativity needed in this meeting.” In fairness, too, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former Vatican prosecutor on sex abuse crimes, said Thursday that in his view releasing the names of priests facing “credible” accusations is fine, as long as it’s done responsibly.

Still, the whole idea of restricting the information flow probably won’t sit well with survivors, who generally want the Church to provide more data on accused priests rather than less. For instance, survivor Peter Isley with the activist group “Ending Clergy Abuse” complained Thursday about a lack of information as to how the pope is handling roughly 4,000 cases currently awaiting judgment at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“What is he doing with them?” Isley wanted to know. “How come we don’t know who these individuals are?”

Another of the “points of reflection” concerned punishments abuser-priests ought to receive, recommending respect for “the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed.”

To some observers, that line sounded like hesitance about defrocking all priests who sexually abuse minors, which has become more or less the standard sanction in such cases. Once again, in fairness the document also called on Church leaders to “decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave public ministry,” but that’s not quite the same thing.

In all honesty, it’s unlikely thorny issues such as these will be taken up at this week’s summit, and it certainly is true that the very act of calling such a meeting represents a step forward – perhaps especially so for the Church in parts of the world where the abuse scandals have not yet erupted, whose bishops will at least go home with a grudging realization that they’re expected to act.

One wonders, however, if that good news story will have much traction at the end of the week, if the Vatican keeps finding other, and less flattering, narratives for enterprising journalists to pursue.

Opening summit, Pope urges ‘concrete, effective measures’ on abuse

Pope Convenes Summit To Address Clergy’s Sexual Abuse Of Children

Pope Francis has asked the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world to consider not publishing the names of priests accused of sexual abuse “before a preliminary investigation and final sentence.”
Pope Francis has asked the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world to consider not publishing the names of priests accused of sexual abuse “before a preliminary investigation and final sentence.”

Opening summit, Pope urges ‘concrete, effective measures’ on abuse

ROME (AIWA! NO!)- Concrete, effective actions and courage, not merely “simple condemnations,” is what Pope Francis said he’s expecting from a Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit on clerical abuse that opened Thursday morning.

The pontiff pointedly said this is what the People of God want, watching the 190 men and women meeting over the next four days in Rome.

Thursday’s opening session included several voices acknowledging that the Catholic Church has failed victims, and that crimes of sexual abuse of minors by clergy have been covered up by bishops.

“The Holy People of God are watching us and wait for more than simple condemnations, they expect concrete and effective measures. We need concreteness,” Francis said in a short opening speech.

Vatican summit to ‘reflect’ on ending publication of accused priests’ names
Bishops attend the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Credit: Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP.)

Defining the abuse of minors perpetrated by men of the Church as a “plague,” Francis said he’d thought to reach out to presidents of bishops’ conferences, heads of the Eastern Churches and leaders of male and female religious orders so they can “listen to the cries of the little ones clamoring for our help.”

Vatican summit to ‘reflect’ on ending publication of accused priests’ names

German Father Hans Zollner, director of the Centre for Child Protection at Rome’s Gregorian University, read a quote from an unnamed survivor.

“Not my parents nor ecclesial authorities heard my cry,” Zollner read. “And I ask myself, why is it that not even God heard my cry?”

The morning session that opened the much anticipated summit was live-streamed, with the exception of the pre-taped witness of five victims from Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the United States and Asia.

The lineup included a short opening speech from the pope, two longer talks and a series of prayers. The encounter was multilingual, with people speaking in English, Spanish and Italian.

The Vatican released the text of five abuse survivors who addressed the participants, keeping their identities hidden. The first, however, is well known, as he had told the media he’d be a part of the presentation: Juan Carlos Cruz from Chile.

“You are physicians of the soul, and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed – in some cases – into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith. What a terrible contradiction,” Cruz said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich defended on Thursday the “dramatic drop” in clergy sex abuse cases in the United States since the U.S. bishops enacted a zero tolerance policy against abusers in 2002.
“When we put in measures to protect children, when we make sure we cooperate with law enforcement, incidents of child abuse drop dramatically, and have since 2002 when we adopted a charter,” Cupich told veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour last week ahead of Pope Francis’s major summit on sex abuse this week at the Vatican.


Yet Cruz defended the work Pope Francis is doing in the Chilean church to address a decades-long crisis, one which led all the country’s bishops to submit their resignations en masse. Eight have been subpoenaed by civil authorities to testify on either charges of abuse or cover-up.

A survivor from Asia, unclear if it was a man or a woman, spoke about being sexually abused over 100 times, which, this person said, has created “traumas and flashbacks all across my life.”

The person said that after going to provincials and superiors of the religious order of the abuser, they covered up for the perpetrator, adding,  “That kills me sometimes.”

If “we want to save the Church, we need to get our act together,” the person said. “This act [of abuse] will destroy whole generations of children. And as Jesus always said, we need to be child-like and not to be child sexual molestors.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines compared the response of bishops to the clerical sexual abuse crisis to the apostles’ betrayal of Jesus and their doubt about the resurrection until Thomas touched the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side.

“How can we profess faith in Christ when we close our eyes to the wounds inflicted by abuse?” Tagle said.

“If we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the resurrection, this means that each of us and our brothers and sisters at home must take personal responsibility for bringing healing to this wound in the body of Christ,” he said.

According to Tagle, President of the papal umbrella charity group Caritas Internationalis, the Church must “see that children and vulnerable people are safe, are cared for, in our communities.”

The prelate also said that Jesus’ wounds remind us that wounds are often inflicted by the “blindness of ambition and misuse of power, which condemned an innocent person to die as a criminal.”

Tagle called on the Church to “reject any tendency” that refuses to see and touch the wounds of others: “Those wounded by abuse and the scandal need to be strong in faith in this moment,” he said.

“If we are to heal victims and all those wounded by the crisis, we need to take seriously their resentment and pain,” Tagle said.

His presentation was followed by a behind-closed doors Q&A session.

“We in the Church should continue to walk with those wounded by abuse, building trust and asking forgiveness, fully understanding we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice,” Tagle said, adding that only mercy and grace can supply it.

Walking with the victims, he argued, does not mean that bishops and superiors cannot reach out to the perpetrator too, helping them face the truth of their actions without “rationalization, and at the same time not neglecting their inner world and their own wounds.”

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a former Vatican prosecutor on sex abuse crimes and a leading Catholic voice on the protection of minors, was scheduled to speak next.

In a piece published on Wednesday, Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli argued that this week’s summit is destined to leave a mark.

“Even before a deep consideration of indispensable concrete indications of what to do facing the wounds of abuse, the awareness on the part of the entire Church of the dramatic and irreversible consequences for minors who have suffered abuse will leave a mark,” Tornielli wrote.

Scicluna’s talk was centered on how bishops and religious superiors can prevent abuse, and how they should respond when it happens.

His recommendations included mandatory reporting to civil authorities, noting that beyond Church rules, priests and religious must also abide by civil laws. He also called for careful screening of candidates to the priesthood, and said that concealing information on the leadership ability of a candidate to become a bishop is a “great sin against the Church.”

“The faith community should know that we mean business,” he said. “They should come to us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth…. We will protect them at all costs. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us.”

Scicluna quoted extensively from two letters Pope emeritus Benedict XVI addressed to the bishops and the people of Ireland in 2006 and 2009, including praise of survivors who’ve spoken up and also a call for the “transgressions” of some priests not to obscure the “fine work and selfless dedication of the great majority of priests and religious.”

The goal, say experts, is to test the West’s defenses. The U.S. and other intelligence agencies have responded by moving into the Ukrainian networks to pick up the signals. “Getting intelligence ahead of time is important,” says Dymtro Shymkiv, the former head of Microsoft in Ukraine and President Petro Poroshenko’s chief adviser on cyber between 2014 and 2018. “Some of the viruses and malware in the energy blackouts in Ukraine were later found in the U.S. and Israel.”

Ukraine: How the Eastern European country became a test bed for Russia cyberweaponry

Illustration by John W. Tomac for POLITICO
Illustration by John W. Tomac for POLITICO

As Russian hackers face down Western spies, the Ukraine has become a live-fire space for hackers LAURENS CERULUS

KIEV|AIWA! NO!| — To see the warfare of the future, head to the top floor of a nondescript office tower on a potholed street on the scruffy outskirts of Ukraine’s capital. There, next to a darkened conference room, engineers sit at dark gray monitors, waging war with lines of code.

“Attacks are happening every day,” says Oleh Derevianko, founder of the Ukrainian cybersecurity firm that employs them, Information Systems Security Partners. “We never thought we were going to be the front line of cyber and hybrid war.”

There may be no better place to witness cyber conflict in action than Ukraine today. Open warfare with Russia, a highly skilled, computer-literate pool of talent and a uniquely vulnerable political, economic and IT environment have made the country the perfect sandbox for those looking to test new cyberweapons, tactics and tools.

“Ukraine is live-fire space,” says Kenneth Geers, a veteran cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who advises NATO’s Tallinn cyber center and spent time on the ground in Ukraine to study the country’s cyber conflict. Much like global powers fought proxy wars in the Middle East or Africa during the Cold War, Ukraine has become a battleground in a cyberwar arms race for global influence.

Derevianko’s outfit works closely with the Ukrainian government and its U.S. and European allies to fend off onslaughts against the country’s networks. On the other side of the virtual front line: Not just sophisticated Russian-affiliated hacker groups like Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear and Sandworm — the group behind “NotPetya,” the most devastating cyberattack to date — but also hosts of other governmental, nongovernmental and criminal players testing out their capabilities on the country’s networks.

“They’re not only testing destruction but also testing your reflexes” — Oleh Derevianko, founder of Information Systems Security Partners

Activity has spiked ahead of presidential elections in March, says Derevianko. Since November, hacker groups have been shelling Ukrainian magistrates, government officials, attorneys and others with emails that contain attachments with malware and viruses — sometimes disguised as Christmas greetings, or as messages from the prime minister’s office — in what Derevianko describes as “mass phishing.”

Russian hacker groups are repeatedly attempting to get into the country’s systems, Ukraine’s national security service told POLITICO. Critical infrastructure and election systems are under constant stress, it said.

“They’re not only testing destruction but also testing your reflexes,” says Derevianko.

Russia’s playground

The war in eastern Ukraine has given Russian-affiliated hackers the opportunity to perfect their ability to launch cyberattacks with a series of major intrusions in Ukraine over the past few years.

“The annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas, it has created a volatile political environment,” says Merle Maigre, the former head of NATO’s cyberdefense center in Tallinn who is now executive vice president at the Estonian cybersecurity firm CybExer.

Even as Russian tanks crossed the physical border into eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, Russian-affiliated hackers were sending malicious code onto Ukraine’s IT systems, providing political chaos as a smokescreen.

Three days before the presidential election in May 2014, hackers broke into Ukraine’s Central Election Commission and disabled parts of the network using advanced cyberespionage malware, according to a report by the International Foundation of Electoral Systems funded by the U.S. and U.K. and seen by POLITICO. The Central Election Commission was hit again later that year, when hackers took down its website ahead of a parliamentary vote in October.

Large-scale attacks followed the next year, and again in 2016. The targets, this time, were companies running Ukraine’s power grid. In 2015, hackers used so-called BlackEnergy malware, dropped on companies’ networks using spear phishing attacks that tricked employees into downloading from mock emails. So-called KillDisk malware later destroyed parts of the grid.

The resulting blackouts — the world’s first known successful cyberattack on an energy company at scale — affected about 230,000 Ukrainians for up to six hours. A year later, in December 2016, hackers relied on even more sophisticated tools to successfully turn off the lights in large parts of the Ukrainian capital yet again.

But the widest-reaching attack — and the world’s most financially damaging to date — took place in 2017, when hackers combined code tested in the power grid attacks with malware known as “Petya” and a security vulnerability initially discovered by the U.S. National Security Agency called EternalBlue.

Danish shipping behemoth Maersk was crippled by a 2017 malware attack | Leon Neal/Getty Images
Danish shipping behemoth Maersk was crippled by a 2017 malware attack | Leon Neal/Getty Images

The resulting malware — “NotPetya” — compromised the software of a small tech firm called Linkos Group, providing it access to the computers of utility companies, banks, airports and government agencies in Ukraine. It also crippled multinationals like the Danish shipping giant Maersk, logistics giant FedEx, pharma company Merck and other major corporations.

The NotPetya attack — which cost an estimated $10 billion to clean up — was “as close to cyberwar” as we’ve come, says Geers. “This was the most damaging attack in history, of a scale and cost that would far exceed a missile fired from the Donbas into Kiev.”

Cyber sandbox

The free-for-all environment of a country at war has turned Ukraine into a magnet for players of all types looking to test their cyber capabilities. In addition to hostile Russian hackers, the country has attracted cybersecurity firms looking to get close to the action, Western intelligence agencies seeking to understand the nature of modern conflict and criminals looking to make a buck.

“Donbas is basically lit up with malware. That’s intelligence services trying to figure out what Russia is going to do next in Donbas, trying to figure out what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is up to,” says Geers, the Atlantic Council’s cybersecurity expert. “The U.S., China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, Iran — it’s coming from everywhere.”

In addition to the ongoing military conflict, Ukraine offers a tempting target because so many of the country’s computers run pirated software, which doesn’t receive standard security patches. And, because it is well integrated with Western European internet networks, the country offers a backdoor to hack the rest of Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP via Getty Images

Constant attempted attacks by hacker groups such as Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear and Turla are putting critical infrastructure and election systems under constant stress, Ukraine’s national security told POLITICO.

The goal, say experts, is to test the West’s defenses. The U.S. and other intelligence agencies have responded by moving into the Ukrainian networks to pick up the signals.

“Getting intelligence ahead of time is important,” says Dymtro Shymkiv, the former head of Microsoft in Ukraine and President Petro Poroshenko’s chief adviser on cyber between 2014 and 2018. “Some of the viruses and malware in the energy blackouts in Ukraine were later found in the U.S. and Israel.”

Ukrainian authorities, he says, exchange cyber intel for help in fending off the hackers.

“Whenever we identified malware, we uploaded it to special services where manufacturers of anti-virus could analyze it,” says Shymkiv. His cyber team sometimes worked with expert communities on platforms like Hybrid Analysis or ANY.RUN, a technique known as “cloud-based sandboxing,” where researchers can access the data and get in touch with those affected by malware, he says.

“U.S. counterparts, they are requesting a lot of information and interacting very productively” — Roman Boyarchuk, head of Ukraine’s State Cyber Protection Center

Washington has invested heavily in cyber resilience in Ukraine since 2014. USAID alone freed up a pot of $10 million (€8.9 million) for cybersecurity defenses, and a sizeable part of its much larger budget to support Ukraine goes to securing IT systems in the country.

U.S. companies, such as tech giant Microsoft, have also beefed up their presence in the country. Hardware leader Cisco has a strong foothold that includes its renowned cyberintelligence unit Talos. And U.S. cyber firm CrowdStrike, known for bullishly calling out state-sponsored hacks, is also active in the country, as are many others.

The U.S. and Europe are also investing in seminars and training for Ukrainian cybersecurity staff, and are involved in day-to-day assistance via the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), an international organization backed by democracies worldwide to help out with holding elections, and other channels.

“U.S. counterparts, they are requesting a lot of information and interacting very productively,” says Roman Boyarchuk, the head of Ukraine’s State Cyber Protection Center, the authority tasked with fending off attackers from government networks. American and European cybersecurity authorities regularly ask for more details about his agency’s analysis of major threats, he says.

Hackers are ramping up their activity ahead of Ukraine's March election | Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
Hackers are ramping up their activity ahead of Ukraine’s March election | Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Activity has increased ahead of Ukraine’s national election in March, experts say, as smaller groups and individual hackers and criminals look for financial gain.

“They’re scanning the networks and sending a lot of malware in order to find the breaches, the vulnerabilities,” says Boyarchuck, of the national cyber emergency team. “They are taking control, recording this control, putting it into databases and selling it.”

The hackers then find buyers for these credentials or access into confidential networks. Large data sets are sold on dark web marketplaces to anyone willing to pay the price.

“Everyone is buying it,” says Boyarchuk. “Corporate competitors, state actors, anybody.”

Fears of contagion

For Kiev’s cyber helpers, the goal is not just to help out a developing country under pressure. As Ukraine becomes ever more integrated with the West, there’s a strong fear of contagion. A successful cyberattack in Kiev, they fear, can easily slip the country’s borders and infect computers across the globe.

That’s become especially true following Ukraine’s shift toward the West, which triggered Russia’s aggression. The country’s 2014 Association Agreement with the EU came with a “deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement” in place since 2016 that has strengthened economic ties. And with the increase in trade has come added data flows and interactions in its internet networks.

The 2017 “NotPetya” attack was a painful example of the risks that come with this kind of entanglement: An attack starting in a small tech firm in Ukraine spread to companies and government agencies across the world, grinding the business of international heavy-hitters to a halt.

“We provided them with political support, we’ve supported Ukraine in providing guns and ammo. Now we’re moving to cyber” — Edvinas Kerza, Lithuania’s vice minister of national defense

NotPetya “was when everybody realized how vulnerable we are when Ukraine gets hit,” says Maigre, the former head of NATO’s cyberdefense center. “It easily blows over to Europe and beyond.”

For the EU, in particular, the attack underlined the urgency of beefing up Ukraine’s cyberdefenses.

Since then, European countries have set up bilateral assistance deals. Estonia, for example, is heavily involved in helping Ukrainian authorities set up a secure electoral IT system. Lithuania is also active, according to Edvinas Kerza, the country’s vice minister of national defense.

“We provided them with political support, we’ve supported Ukraine in providing guns and ammo,” says Kerza. “Now we’re moving to cyber.”

The EU’s eye is now on securing the upcoming presidential election at the end of March.

March's vote in Ukraine could provide valuable insight on cyberweaponry for the EU | John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images
March’s vote in Ukraine could provide valuable insight on cyberweaponry for the EU | John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

“We strongly expect Russia will try to influence the course of Ukraine’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019,” Ukraine’s security service said in an email, adding that the greatest threat comes from special services launching “purposeful, long-term cyberattacks with state interests in mind.”

Above all, the March vote could provide valuable insight for the EU, as it braces for cyberattacks on its European election at the end of May. That vote — in which voters in 27 countries will choose a new European Parliament and by extension decide who sits at the helm of the EU’s top institutions — is uniquely vulnerable to interference.

What happens in Kiev today could easily happen in Berlin, Rome or Amsterdam tomorrow, experts say. Ukraine “is sort of like a litmus test,” says Maigre. The stream of phishing emails, the data sold on the dark web, the new types of malware — all of it can pop up west of Ukraine at any time. “That’s why it is interesting to see how it all plays out in the elections,” she says.

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