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‘Online banking will go down, the NHS will be crippled and petrol pumps will run dry’


NATO leaders have been doing everything they can to avoid being dragged into a war with Russia amid the horrific bloodshed in Ukraine.

But Vladimir Putin‘s pariah state looks set to launch a different type of conflict with the West – cyber warfare.

Governments and defence and security experts have warned for weeks Britain, the US and the EU should brace for a wave of crippling malware attacks.

President Joe Biden said on Monday they would be ‘consequential’ and were ‘one of the tools [Putin] is most likely to use’.

He also urged business leaders to strengthen their companies’ defence systems immediately as a cyber war was ‘coming’.

Meanwhile GCHQ urged UK firms to ‘bolster their online defences’ and said there was a ‘pattern of cyber attacks on Ukraine with international consequences’.

Home Secretary Priti Patel previously said officials and the security services were on alert for cyber warfare and disinformation campaigns from Moscow.

But there is still debate over how Russian hackers would target Western countries, such as if they would hit the NHS, petrol pumps, banks or phone services.

Here, MailOnline looks at possible targets across the country and asks experts what can be done to protect them…

Vladimir Putin's pariah state looks set to launch a different type of conflict with the West - cyber warfare

President Joe Biden said on Monday they would be 'consequential' and were 'one of the tools [Putin] is most likely to use'

Vladimir Putin’s pariah state looks set to launch a different type of conflict with the West – cyber warfare. President Joe Biden said on Monday they would be ‘consequential’ and were ‘one of the tools [Putin] is most likely to use’

Russia could try to target British infrastructure with cyber-attacks or using its control of Europe's oil and gas market

Russia could try to target British infrastructure with cyber-attacks or using its control of Europe’s oil and gas market

What is a DDoS attack and how does it work? 

DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service, which is a former of cyber attack. 

These attacks attempt to crash a website or online service by bombarding them with a torrent of superfluous requests at exactly the same time.

The surge of simple requests overloads the servers, causing them to shut down.

In order to leverage the number of requests necessary to crash a popular website or online service, hackers will often resort to botnets – networks of computers brought under their control with malware.

Malware is distributed by tricking users into inadvertently downloading software, typically by tricking users into following a link in an email or agreeing to download a corrupted file.

Last month, Ukranian banking and government websites were briefly knocked offline by a spate of DDoS attacks which the US and Britain said were carried out by Russian military hackers. Russia rejected the allegations.

Top firms

Russians could declare a long cyber-war on Britain and its allies having successfully knocked out Ukraine’s key government websites and systems before, during and after the invasion last month.

Millions of companies across Britain were warned to prepare for a Russian cyber attack as experts said the UK’s digital infrastructure is seen as fair game by Putin’s army of hackers.

Russian troll farms will also be targeting Britons with social media posts to spread misinformation and confusion about the turmoil in Ukraine.

RUSI expert Ed Arnold said: ‘Western military options in Ukraine are challenging and the US and UK government have talked of the use of offensive cyber.

‘This would be risky for the West as it could easily escalate into tit for tat cyber attacks not just in the military domain, but also the commercial world.

‘If cyber activities escalate, businesses and people in the UK can expect disruption of websites, communication platforms, networks and in extremis, UK critical national infrastructure. This could also go on for quite some time.’

In recent weeks the Financial Conduct Authority watchdog has written to the chief executives of UK banks warning them to brace for Russian-sponsored cyber attacks and to ensure their security systems are updated.

Home Secretary Ms Patel said officials were on alert for cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns from Moscow as Russia invades Ukraine.

She tweeted: ‘As we monitor developments, we will be especially mindful of the potential for cyber attacks and disinformation emanating from Russia.

‘Be in no doubt there is work ongoing across government 24/7 to maximise our resilience to any such attacks, which would be met with a suitably robust response.’

Mike Wills, director of strategy and policy at cyber and data security firm CSS Assure, said even without the outbreak of full hostilities between Russia and the West the Kremlin would still use cyber warfare as a distraction technique. 

He added: ‘What they may be looking to do is to distract focus from what’s going on in Ukraine, so we’re perhaps more likely to see attacks on critical infrastructure.

‘These attacks could be outsourced to another group around the world so there’s plausible deniability.

‘So we may have our suspicions about who’s to blame but it may be impossible to improve it conclusively.’

A laptop screen displays the warning message that appeared on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a cyberattack by Russia amid fears the UK and Nato allies could be next

A laptop screen displays the warning message that appeared on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a cyberattack by Russia amid fears the UK and Nato allies could be next

He continued: ‘They can disrupt our ability either to use banking services. In the first instance they’ll try and target the provider of the critical infrastructure, who will often have very strong cyber defences.

‘But then you have lots of other people and organisations in the supply chain, and not everyone is as careful about their cyber security as they should.

‘They’ll be looking for a back door into doing it. And when you take that one stage further you’ll have to look at individuals.

‘We all have a job and a trusted cyber connection with a business, so they could use them.’

How did the Wannacry cyber attack cripple the NHS?

More than a third of hospital trusts – 81 in total – had their computer systems crippled in the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017.

Nearly 20,000 hospital appointments were cancelled because the NHS failed to provide basic security against cyber attackers. When the attack came on May 12 it ripped through the out-of-date defences used by the NHS.

The virus spread via email, locking staff out of their computers and demanding £230 to release the files on each employee account. Doctors and nurses had to rely on pen and paper and crucial equipment such as MRI machines was also disabled by the attack.

Nearly 20,000 medical appointments were cancelled, including 139 potential cancer referrals. Five hospitals had to divert ambulances away at the peak of the crisis. Hospitals were found to have been running out-of-date computer systems, such as Windows XP and Windows 7 – which had not been updated to secure them against such attacks. Computers at almost 600 GP surgeries were also victims.

Computer systems in 150 countries were caught up in the attack, which saw screens freeze with a warning they would not be unlocked unless a ransom was paid.

NHS

There are also growing figures Russia could target a cyber attack on the NHS – in a move similar to the Wannacry attack in 2017.

Experts warned the horrendous disruption caused to services could be repeated if Putin’s hackers were successful.

Mike Wills, director of strategy and policy at cyber and data security firm CSS Assure, said: ‘You only need to look back at the Wannacry incident a few years back and see the disruption it caused to the NHS.

‘If Russia were to carry out a similar operation you could see a case of live-saving operations being disrupted and patient data being disrupted.

‘That would cause a huge furore which would cause distraction away from what’s having in Ukraine.’

The 2017 WannaCry cyber-attack cost the NHS £92million and saw 19,000 appointments cancelled after systems collapsed when ransomware was used to lock down hospitals in England.

More than a third of hospital trusts – 81 in total – had their computer systems crippled in the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017.

Nearly 20,000 hospital appointments were cancelled because the NHS failed to provide basic security against cyber attackers. When the attack came on May 12 it ripped through the out-of-date defences used by the NHS.

The virus spread via email, locking staff out of their computers and demanding £230 to release the files on each employee account.

Doctors and nurses had to rely on pen and paper and crucial equipment such as MRI machines was also disabled by the attack.

Nearly 20,000 medical appointments were cancelled, including 139 potential cancer referrals. Five hospitals had to divert ambulances away at the peak of the crisis.

Hospitals were found to have been running out-of-date computer systems, such as Windows XP and Windows 7 – which had not been updated to secure them against such attacks. Computers at almost 600 GP surgeries were also victims.

Computer systems in 150 countries were caught up in the attack, which saw screens freeze with a warning they would not be unlocked unless a ransom was paid.

Banks

British banks are bracing themselves for Russian cyber attacks, with the boss of Lloyds saying the business is on a ‘heightened alert’.

Steps are being taken over fears Vladimir Putin will unleash his criminal network of hackers on the UK following his invasion of Ukraine.

Preparation for potential attacks was discussed in a meeting between the government and banking industry leaders last month, Lloyds chief executive Charlie Nunn said.

He added the firm was on ‘heightened alert … internally around our cyber risk controls and we’ve been focused on this for quite a while’.

Ukrainian banking and government websites were briefly knocked offline by a spate of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks which the US and Britain said were carried out by Russian military hackers – something the Russians denied.

This prompted concerns that the same sort of attack could now be attempted in the UK.

DDoS attacks try to crash a website by bombarding it with superfluous requests at the same time – and this surge of simple requests overloads the servers, causing them to shut down.

In order to leverage the number of requests necessary, hackers will often resort to botnets – networks of computers brought under their control with malware. 

Diplomatic

Britain’s spy chiefs have spent the past few years on a recruitment drive for Russian-speaking agents amid mounting tensions with the Kremlin.

Experts say a new phase of the Cold War has started. MI5 brought more in amid warnings of a new Cold War as tensions continue to rise over Ukraine.

The skill of MI5 and MI6, and their close ties with the CIA, means they were able to pin down exactly when Russia planned to invade.

They will be being put to good use, amid warnings Russia and its Army of spies will be trying to steal secrets and cause chaos from inside and outside the UK.   

Experts believe GRU agents will be desperately trying to steal secrets that can destabilise their enemies, and find out how Nato, the US and UK in particular, will respond.

In 2017 Russian agents were found to have tried to access UK Foreign Office computers.

A unit of GRU agents – the same organisation which produced the novichok poisoning suspects – ran a four-year global ‘campaign of disinformation’.

FIFA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the US presidential race, and the Dutch government were all targets of the unit named ‘Sandworm’.

The skill of MI5 and MI6 (pictured, its building in London), and their close ties with the CIA, means they were able to pin down exactly when Russia planned to invade

The skill of MI5 and MI6 (pictured, its building in London), and their close ties with the CIA, means they were able to pin down exactly when Russia planned to invade

And after Liz Truss’ stormy meeting with the Russian Ambassador to London, which led to her ‘throwing him out’ after less than ten minutes, a ‘tit-for-tat’ expulsion of diplomats and officials from embassies looks inevitable.

Ed Arnold said: ‘For the time being diplomacy is dead. Indeed collective security in Europe might need to be jettisoned altogether as we move back to balance of power politics. 

‘While there will still be backchannel attempts to open lines of communication, the relations between the West and Russia are the worst they have been since the end of the Cold War with little prospects of improving.

‘We should expect closing of embassies, the breaking of diplomatic relations and expulsion of diplomats and other nationals.

‘GRU activity in the West will likely increase as they seek to collect intelligence on the Western response’. 

Energy, fuel prices and the Western economy 

The invasion of Ukraine has already pushed up prices. The cost of Brent crude oil hit its highest level since 2014 after increasing by 5.6 per cent to $102.30 per barrel.

Britons already feeling the squeeze have been warned to expect huge price hikes on everyday items due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Shoppers who have been battered by eye-watering costs over the pandemic were told petrol, gas and wheat could be set to skyrocket as the war kicked off.

There are also warning signs the system could get hacked, with Russian-based groups blamed for previous fuel crises.

Last year motorists in the US found gas pumps shrouded in plastic bags at tapped-out service stations across more than a dozen states while the operator of the nation’s largest gasoline pipeline reported making ‘substantial progress’ in resolving the computer hack-induced shutdown responsible for the empty tanks.

About 70 per cent of North Carolina’s gas stations were without fuel amid panic-buying and about half the stations in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia were tapped out, GasBuddy.com reported.

Washington, DC was among the hardest-hit locations, with 73 per cent of stations out, the site’s tracking service showed.

Biden said US officials do not believe the Russian government was involved in the hack of the Colonial Pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey.

But he added: ‘We do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia. That’s where it came from.’

Fuel prices at a Shell petrol station near London Bridge yesterday. The RAC has warned the average is on the way to £1.50/litre

A Shell petrol station near London Bridge on Tuesday. The RAC has warned the petrol average is on the way to £1.50/litre

Russia and Ukraine are huge exporters of the three vital products, meaning any disruption in supply could batter pockets across the UK.

Ed Arnold said: ‘The West and Russia are interlinked economically, especially in terms of energy.

‘Despite the German Government decision to cancel the controversial Nordstream 2 pipeline.

‘Russia still holds significant leverage and the West needs to understand that it will incur costs.

‘Gas oil and energy prices will likely spike and European financial market are currently significantly down US, EU and UK sanctions will now have to move to a maximalist package and the EU will vote on the ‘harshest sanctions’ this evening.

‘Russia will likely respond by disrupting supply chains of gas used in semiconductor manufacture, possible other measures such as denying overflight for commercial airlines.’

The invasion saw analysts predict huge price hikes, with petrol set to rocket to more than 170p per litre, bills leaping by £700 and the price of bread to go up by 20p.

One economist said if the jumps in oil, gas and electricity products are sustained, it could push inflation to 8.2 per cent in April – and would only fall back to 6.5 per cent by the end of 2022.

The RAC also warned the cost of petrol could rocket. Spokesman Simon Williams said: ‘Both petrol and diesel reached new record levels yesterday. Unleaded is nearly 149.5p a litre and diesel almost 153p.

‘Russia’s actions will now push petrol pump prices up to £1.50 very soon. The question then becomes where will this stop and how much can drivers take just as many are using their cars more and returning to workplaces.’

He continued: ‘If the oil price was to increase to $110 there’s a very real danger the average price of petrol would hit £1.55 a litre.

‘This would cause untold financial difficulties for many people who depend on their cars for getting to work and running their lives as it would sky rocket the cost of a full tank to £85.

‘At $120 a barrel – without any change to the exchange rate which is currently at $1.35 – we would be looking £1.60 a litre and £88 for a full tank.’

Oil pumping jacks known as 'nodding donkeys' operate in an oil field near Almetyevsk in Tatarstan, Russia, in March 2020

Oil pumping jacks known as ‘nodding donkeys’ operate in an oil field near Almetyevsk in Tatarstan, Russia, in March 2020

In early 2020, oil briefly turned negative following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that shut offices and factories – and grounded planes worldwide.

The market tumbled also on scarce storage facilities and a Saudi-Russia price war. WTI slumped to minus $40.32, meaning producers paid buyers to take the oil off their hands.

Brent tanked to a low $15.98. Oil prices since recovered, rocketing last year to around $70 per barrel as economies reopened from lockdowns, sparking a surge in demand for crude. The highs for Brent and WTI are above $147.

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘Millions of people have fallen into the fuel poverty gap, and war between Ukraine and Russia could push even more of us over the edge.

‘Falling real wages and massive price increases means the fuel poverty gap has hit £779 million. It would now take a £258 cut in fuel bills for someone to escape fuel poverty.

‘And this is even before the full impact of April’s price hike has fed through into the calculations – let alone the risk of war pushing prices up significantly again in October.

‘The timing of the forecast means the government has only factored in half of the impact of April’s incredible 54 per cent price rise.

‘It has also added in the burn-now-pay-later loan from the government and the council tax rebate – both of which offer a boost up front, but nothing in subsequent months.’

Food

Last year there were fears the US would be hit with beef shortages and price rises after the world’s largest meat producer was forced to close all of its plants due to a cyber attack which the White House blamed on Russian hackers.

JBS – which supplies 20 per cent of all beef and pork in the US – warned the Memorial Day weekend hack could have disrupted its supply chains and increased prices up up to 30 per cent.

JBS received a demand from ‘a criminal organization likely based in Russia’ following the attack that has affected its operations in Australia and North America, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The Department of Agriculture asked other major meat processors to increase capacity and mitigate potential beef supply issues due to the country’s reliance on JBS production lines.

Meanwhile Ukraine is known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe,’ and its invasion is certain to lead to price rises and eventual shortages.

It is a major supplier of wheat, corn and oils with economists warning the cost-of-living crisis in the UK could be exacerbated with inflation rising well beyond current predictions of around 7 per cent later this year.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said if the jumps in oil, gas and electricity products on Thursday are sustained, it could push inflation to 8.2 per cent in April.

It would only fall back to 6.5 per cent by the end of the year, he added.

Inflation hit 5.5 per cent in January and the Bank of England believes it will peak at more than 7 per cent in April when huge 50 per cent increases in domestic energy bills when the new price cap hits.

Mr Tombs said: ‘Today’s surge in oil, natural gas and electricity prices, if sustained, points to an extra 1.5pp boost to the UK CPI.

US Department of Agriculture stats show that Ukraine is one of the world's top suppliers of grains and oils, which will be disrupted by war. Shortages and price rises are predicted

US Department of Agriculture stats show that Ukraine is one of the world’s top suppliers of grains and oils, which will be disrupted by war. Shortages and price rises are predicted

A report from the European Commission's Agriculture and Rural Development unit showed in 2020 Ukraine was the fourth largest origin of agri-food

A report from the European Commission’s Agriculture and Rural Development unit showed in 2020 Ukraine was the fourth largest origin of agri-food

‘CPI inflation now likely to peak at circa 8.2 per cent in April and only come down to 6.5 per cent by the end of the year.

‘Hard to see how households’ real spending keeps rising.’

Thomas Pugh, an economist at RSM UK, added: ‘Looking beyond the immediate humanitarian impact, the effect on the UK economy will depend on what happens next and how long commodity prices remain elevated for.

‘But inflation in the UK will now probably rise beyond the 7.5 per cent peak we had expected in April and will remain higher for longer.’

‘A good general guideline is that a 10 dollar increase in a barrel of oil increases inflation over the next year by about 0.15 percentage points.

‘The direct effects on inflation will also likely extend to food prices.’

The price of a barrel of oil hit above 100 dollars a barrel on Thursday for the first time since 2014.

He added Russia and Ukraine export a quarter of the world’s wheat, with Ukraine a major corn exporter.

Commons Leader Mark Spencer replied: ‘Clearly, the conflict in Ukraine between Russia and Ukraine is going to have an impact not only on global fuel prices, but also on global food prices as well.

‘The Ukraine is an enormous supplier of food, of wheat and of bread.

‘I think it’s something that the UK Government will monitor and, of course, will assist through its work to try and lessen the burden of the cost of living.’

Global wheat prices had already been rising prior to the invasion and are are up nearly 40 per cent this year, hitting levels not seen since 2013.

Futures contracts for the grain, along with corn, surging to maximum allowed levels on the Chicago exchange on Wednesday.

In Paris, milling wheat hit record highs, along with rising oilseed prices, Ukraine is a major producer of sunflowers.

Chris Rogers, a supply chain economist at Flexport, said: ‘The physical availability of the commodities that are produced and exported from Ukraine and Russia may be interrupted by conflict.’

He also warned that prices could rise as associated costs, such as shipping insurance, could rise.

Military

The British Army this week banned WhatsApp over fears Russia is hacking the platform to acquire operationally sensitive information.

All personnel, from senior officers to junior soldiers, must cease using the phone messaging service for professional purposes or face disciplinary action.

A Ministry of Defence document confirming the ban said there were ‘significant security concerns’ around using WhatsApp.

The order, effective immediately, comes after the Daily Mail reported at the weekend that Russia was using UK mobile phone data to select airstrike targets in Ukraine.

A cruise missile attack last Sunday on a training camp for foreign fighters, which killed 35 and wounded 134, was initiated after UK numbers apparently ‘lit up’ a Ukrainian phone network covering the base.

Senior government ministers may now come under increased pressure to cease using Whats-App for official business.

Putin has threatened war with any nation he deems as interfering with his invasion of Ukraine – but experts believe skirmishes could break out across the globe.

For now Russia will want to keep the military operation conventional and localised to Ukraine. Almost two thirds of his combat power is currently committed to Ukraine.

He will be concerned of wider escalation, especially to any nearby NATO countries that are protected by collective defence commitments, although experts fear his next targets could be former Soviet states on the Baltic.

Former British Army general Sir Richard Shirreff, ex-deputy supreme commander of Nato, said: ‘There is a possibility that we as a nation will soon be at war with Russia.’

Sir Richard said Britain’s first line of defence is now the border of former Soviet states who fear they could be next after the invasion of Ukraine.

He admitted he fears British servicemen and women could soon be fighting the Russians ‘in the forests of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia’.

But Russia will want to keep the military operation conventional and localised to Ukraine.

Sir Richard said the invasion must change Mr Johnson‘s ‘mindset’ – warning he believes Putin is bent on restoring the USSR, which was split into 15 republics.

Former British Army general Sir Richard Shirreff (pictured), ex-deputy supreme commander of Nato , said: 'There is a possibility that we as a nation will soon be at war with Russia'

Former British Army general Sir Richard Shirreff (pictured), ex-deputy supreme commander of Nato , said: ‘There is a possibility that we as a nation will soon be at war with Russia’

Anonymous hackers tell companies still operating in Russia to ‘pull out – or you’re next’

International hacking collective Anonymous has warned Western companies who are continuing to operate in Russia to pull out or risk facing cyberattacks in light of the invasion of Ukraine.

Anonymous is responsible for several attacks of Russian state-controlled media and government websites in which it forcibly swapped Kremlin-directed programming for videos of the bloodshed on the ground in Ukraine and anti-war statements.

The collective has also conducted cyber raids on the likes of Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor and Russian intelligence and security service FSB, leaking thousands of classified documents to expose the details of Putin’s plans to conquer Ukraine and undermine the Kremlin’s domestic propaganda drive.

International hacking collective Anonymous has warned Western companies who are continuing to operate in Russia to pull out or risk facing cyberattacks in light of the invasion of Ukraine

International hacking collective Anonymous has warned Western companies who are continuing to operate in Russia to pull out or risk facing cyberattacks in light of the invasion of Ukraine

But now, the hacktivists are turning their attention to large corporations who have not yet suspended their operations in Russia amid the war.

Anonymous’ official Twitter account posted yesterday that companies had 48 hours to ‘pull out’ of Russia or face becoming a target of further attacks.

The same account declared on Thursday that its #OpRussia cyber campaign was ‘launching unprecedented attacks’ on Russian government websites and would double the capacity of its attacks.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, he was asked by Nick Robinson if Britons and their ‘children and grandchildren’ may be ‘expected to fight’ the Russians.

Sir Richard replied: ‘Absolutely. If Russia puts one bootstep into Nato territory, we are all at war with Russia.

‘Article 5 (of the Nato alliance) says an attack on one is an attack on all, so we need to change our mindset fundamentally, and that is why I say our defence starts in the UK on the frontiers of Nato.’

He added: ‘It is very possible he might move into Nato countries and lead to war with thirty countries.’

But he warned Britain or Nato cannot deploy in Ukraine ‘because that will precipitate a Third World War’.

He went on: ‘We need to look at our own security. We must really man the ramparts in eastern Europe as an alliance.

‘We should mobilise the forces, such as we’ve got, as I’m afraid the cupboard is pretty bare after a decade-plus of cuts.

‘Our government must be examining carefully what needs to be done to reinforce the East and send the most powerful signal that Nato is ready and willing to defend its territory.’

Of course, miscalculation could lead to escalation, much like during the height of the Cold War.

Ed Arnold, Research Fellow in European Security at RUSI, said: ‘The conflict will likely spillover to other areas and the West needs to be prepared for further escalation in the Baltics, High North, Arctic, Balkans, Moldova, the Middle East and North Africa, or even Venezuela.

‘Russia has security interests in all of these theatres and will often use deception, or maskirovka, to divide Western attention and mask his actions.

‘The UK is already preparing for escalation in the Baltics by reinforcing Estonia and Poland and deploying a UK carrier Strike Group to the High North on NATO exercise Cold Response.’

Russia has long been fascinated by deceit and disguise, known as maskirovka – which translates as masking.

The idea behind it is to ‘keep the enemy guessing’, and has been a common Russian technique since the Second World War.

It involves never admitting true intentions, always denying activities and using all means politically and militarily to maintain an edge of surprise – and was used in Ukraine and in Crimea in 2014.

Most commonly it involves Russian soldiers operating in foreign countries that are allies and where they can fight their enemies.

In Ukraine last year, Putin’s soldiers were sent in under the guise of handing out humanitarian aid.

This type of military masquerade has been common for decades, most recently in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.

Historian Ben MacIntyre described it as ‘an old Stalinist technique called maskirovka, little masquerade, which means confusing everybody so that nobody knows what is real and what isn’t. That creates an atmosphere in which it’s very hard to govern’.



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