Ukraine Enlists Global Cyber Army

Ukraine has called on volunteer cyber specialists, Anonymous hackers, and global tech companies to join in an unprecedented, collective effort to stop the Kremlin.

Cyber Front Now Open!

On February 26, two days after Russian President Putin invaded Ukraine, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, ordered the so-called “IT Army of Ukraine” on Twitter to begin organizing on Telegram. Both Ukrainian hackers and anyone sympathetic to Ukraine’s cause were invited to join in a free-for-all assault on Russian targets.

“CYBER FRONT IS NOW OPEN! Help Ukrainian cyber experts hack occupant’s platforms!” summons the new Telegram channel.

The group’s over 290,000 members have been tasked with using “any vectors of cyber and DDoS attacks” against Russian corporations, banks, and government sites. Key targets include Russian energy corporations Gazprom and Lukoil, internet company Yandex, the country’s top banks, the Kremlin, and the Ministry of Defense.

“It is the first time that states have openly called for citizens and volunteers to cyberattack another state,” said Harvard anthropology professor, Gabriella Coleman, who has been tracking the rise in hacktivism.

Volunteers can loan their digital devices to help launch DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, or to be used in botnets. The group has also created bots that block Russian disinformation and tools that let people report on Russian troop locations. Members are sharing instructions on assembling Molotov cocktails and basic first aid. Non-cyber specialists in the group have been tasked with reporting Russian social media channels for spreading disinformation.

The cyber army’s wins are mounting steadily. Hacker groups, Anonymous, and Cyber Partisans have claimed responsibility for over 2,500 attacks on Russia’s banks, state broadcaster RT, and a Belarusian rail network used to move troops from Russia to Ukraine. Anonymous also defaced a Russian Space Research Institute website and leaked files allegedly stolen from the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. A DDoS attack battered Russia’s .ru domain, intending to cut off access to all URLs that end in .ru.

On the info-wars front, YouTube has moved to blacklist Russia Today and other major Russian media outlets. That came in response to a horde of complaints amplified by disinformation botnets. Anonymous also claims to have hacked Russian TV with Ukraine invasion footage in what they claim is their ‘biggest op ever seen’.

From Russia with Love

As for Russia’s cyber offensive, Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection tweeted “Russian hackers keep on attacking Ukrainian information resources nonstop”.

Several hours before Russia’s invasion, cyber attackers hit Ukraine’s digital infrastructure with wiper malware. Cybersecurity researchers reported this attack had spill-over effects in neighboring Latvia and Lithuania.

All things considered, though, Russia’s cyber troops have yet to unleash the devastation expected from a nation notorious for its masterful hackers.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far … that Russia has not launched more major cyberattacks against Ukraine,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner commented. “Do I expect Russia to up its game on cyber? Absolutely”.

As both sides gear up for an all-out cyberwar, experts say the situation could spin out of control.

“De-escalation and peace will be hard enough on their own without outsourced hacking to worry about,” said Jay Healey, a cyberconflict expert at Columbia University.

All’s Fair, Right?

Cybersecurity experts ask whether recruiting freelance hackers violates international cyber norms, not to mention international rules of war. Microsoft President Brad Smith said that such attacks “raise serious concerns under the Geneva Convention.”

In the meantime, at the behest of the same minister Mykhailo Fedorov on Twitter, global tech giants are also lining up to freeze Russia out.

Global Companies Shut Down Services to Russia

Federov has successfully enlisted the support of almost all the major global tech companies fors Ukraine’s war effort. In response to Federov’s tagged tweets, Meta and Google have agreed to block access to Russian state websites, apps, and videos. Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Telegram, TikTok, Reddit, NetFlix, and others have all censored Russian media or suspended their Russia services.

PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard have already agreed to shut down services in Russia. Federov has also reached out to business software suppliers, SAP and Oracle, freelance marketplace Upwork, geolocation firm Maxmind, and design tool Figma for their support.

Back in the USSR

It’s ordinary Russians who are suffering the brunt as Ukraine’s global cyber army browbeats them into begging for an end to Putin’s expansionist ambitions. Anyone with a Russian IP address risks losing access to their accounts and services or getting hacked.

One way to avoid being caught in the cross-hairs of a cyberwar is to use a VPN. CyberGhost VPN replaces your IP address with one in another location. That way, you don’t get shut out for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Every story has two sides, but as the ‘Cancel Russia’ campaign mounts, it may prove increasingly difficult to access opposing versions of events. If Google and friends can shut out an entire nation, the only way to get information from the other side of the cyber curtain is with a VPN.

CyberGhost VPN lets you connect to servers both inside and outside of Russia to access primary news sources from both sides of the fence. As a bonus, CyberGhost VPN also encrypts your internet traffic, so your activities are more private, and no one can track you everywhere online.

In the age of cyber war, stay informed and stay safe with CyberGhost VPN.

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