The Ukrainian government is preparing for the potential need to move its data and servers abroad as Russia’s invading forces advance deeper into the country, a senior cybersecurity official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Victor Zhora, the deputy head of Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, stressed that his department is planning an emergency, but that it is even being considered suggests that Ukrainians want to be prepared for any Russian threat to sensitive government documents confiscate.
“We’re preparing the ground,” Zhora said. Plan A was to protect the IT infrastructure in Ukraine. Moving to another country would only be a “plan B or C”.
The move can only happen after regulatory changes approved by Ukrainian lawmakers, Zhora said.
Government officials have already shipped equipment and spares to safer areas of Ukraine that are beyond the reach of Russian forces that invaded on February 24 and besieged several cities.
Last month, Zhora told Politico there were plans to move critical data out of the capital, Kyiv, should it be threatened, but preparations for a possible data move abroad go a step further.
Ukraine has received offers to host data from a variety of countries, Zhora said, declining to name her. For reasons of proximity, “a European location is preferred,” he said.
“There are many options,” he said. “Any suggestions are very welcome and worth considering.”
Zhora gave few details on how such a move might be done, but he said previous efforts to keep government data out of Russia’s access have involved either physically transporting servers and removable storage devices, or digitally migrating data from a service or server another .
Even if lawmakers had agreed to lift restrictions on sending Ukrainian data abroad and instituted a protocol to remove IT assets, that would not necessarily mean that all, or even most, government data or network equipment would be immediately sent out of the country said Zhora.
Government agencies would have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to keep their operations running inside the country or evacuate them.
What to do with the mountains of data collected by governments in wartime became an issue of international concern after the Taliban’s lightning offensive in Afghanistan last August, taking city after city as US and other foreign forces withdrew.
The Taliban’s conquest of Kabul meant that their forces were able to inherit sensitive data – such as salary information on Afghan government employees and soldiers – which they could potentially sift through for clues as to how to arrest or eliminate domestic opponents.
Similar concerns exist in Ukraine. Russia, which holds Ukrainian government databases and intelligence files, could be helpful if Russia wanted to control Ukraine.
Pavol Jakubec, a historian at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, said Ukraine is not necessarily planning a potential government in exile, which is usually the last resort.
“They may want to forestall potential Russian efforts to block their analog and digital operations,” he said.
In 1940, Norway physically sent the bulk of its State Department archives to the north of the country and then eventually to Britain when German troops invaded, Jakubec said.
In addition to trying to protect citizens under occupation, Ukrainian officials would want to deny Russian forces the ability to hold documents “that could otherwise be manipulated by the enemy and used for propaganda purposes,” Jakubec said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022