Cyber Warfare is increasing. How Ukraine supporting hackers are targeting Russian states?

Photo by Jonathan Harrison on Unsplash

Russian governmental and patriotic hackers are among the world’s most renowned computer intrusion culprits. They’ve been blamed for cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns across Europe and Asia, and they’ve been identified as the culprits behind leaked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails ahead of the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Ukraine is no stranger to being the victim of digital espionage. In 2015 and 2016, the country’s electrical grid was hacked. NotPetya, formidable spyware, caused havoc on Ukraine’s banks, airports, and energy companies a year later. The US eventually tied NotPetya to Russian intelligence, and at least four of the malware’s developers were charged.

Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine this week, the world has rallied around it, including, hackers. According to a study, there has been a 196 per cent rise in cyberattacks on Ukraine’s government and military since Russia sent soldiers in last week. Cyberattacks are expected to continue in both ways, especially as more people join Ukraine’s cyber army. The international community was already supplying Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and military information, but Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, in tweeting a link to a public Telegram channel, also invited hackers and IT professionals to join the “cyber front”. The hacktivist collective Anonymous, which rose to prominence between 2008 and 2014 with a series of high-profile politically motivated cyberattacks against organisations as diverse as the Church of Scientology and PayPal, has emerged from the shadows once more, declaring “war” on the Russian government.

Anonymous claimed responsibility for hijacking the Russian state television channel and replacing it with the Ukrainian national anthem playing over an image of the Ukrainian flag in a statement posted on Twitter. The group also claimed responsibility for a distributed denial-of-service attack on Russia’s state news agency, RT. In a dig at Russian President Vladimir Putin, Anonymous hackers changed the name of Putin’s personal yacht to “FCKPTN” and changed its destination to “Hell.” They also altered the yacht’s documented course to depict it colliding with Snake Island, the location of a Ukrainian military installation that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Ukraine’s government is seeking volunteers from the country’s hacker underground to assist in the protection of key infrastructure and cyber-surveillance missions against Russian forces. Ukraine appears to appreciate these efforts. According to reports, a Ukrainian startup called Cyber Unit Technologies has offered hackers a $100,000 reward in exchange for exposing Russian cyber vulnerabilities and shutting down Russian websites. Similarly, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, announced that the country would form an “IT army” of cyber specialists to destabilise the Russian invasion. A Belarusian ransomware group is said to have disrupted the Russian troop movement by shutting down a train network.

The Ukrainian government’s “IT army” ordered its more than 200,000 followers on its Telegram channel to try to take down the Moscow Exchange’s website. Thirty-one minutes later, the administrators of the channel tweeted a screenshot indicating that the exchange’s website had been taken offline.

The alleged takedowns are part of a recent wave of primarily low-level hacks that have briefly taken down Russian websites or defaced them with anti-war propaganda. Ukrainian volunteers and self-proclaimed hacker activism organisations, or hacktivists, claim responsibility for the activities, while some criminal ransomware operators have professed devotion to the Kremlin, implying that the deadly conflict’s digital front is entering an unexpected new phase.

In addition to the Moscow Exchange, the so-called IT Army of Ukraine asked its Telegram followers on Monday to assault the Sberbank website. The claimed purpose of the IT Army administrators was to inflict additional financial anguish since “people in Russia are taking money from ATMs en masse.”

Both websites were down on Monday afternoon. Representatives for Sberbank and the Moscow Exchange did not reply to requests for comment after the United States and other nations placed sanctions on Russian financial institutions on Monday.

It is too early to say if Ukraine’s efforts will be fruitful. The outpouring of worldwide support, on the other hand, has boosted the morale of Ukraine’s troops as they approach their second week of successfully repelling the assault. Regardless of the outcome, onlookers should be moved to witness hackers and government officials working together for a similar goal. Although the Russian government is working to stop these cyber attacks, the Ukrainian government is urging its own hackers and the citizens who can help in launching cyberattacks against Russia.

Apart from the famous hacktivist group “Anonymous” taking Ukraine’s side in this war, other smaller independent hacker groups have also joined in to stop the Russian invasion by disarming their cyber security and making Russia vulnerable to cyber attacks. So far Ukraine has around 1000+ hackers and this number is growing day by day.

There is also the possibility that citizens beginning their own hacking activities may have unanticipated results. And the increase of offensive cyberattacks carried out by individuals creates a slew of new problems, especially given that hacking is illegal in many countries.

Conducting or participating in cyberattacks, even if it is a laudable endeavour to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression and invasion, may be subject to how various countries interpret hacking laws. There is also the possibility that cyberattacks, whether deliberate or unintentional, will create damage outside of Ukraine and Russia. As cyber-attacks are not confined to one place and can happen anywhere, every country needs to keep their cyber security up to date and ready for any cyber attack if follows. CISA and the UK’s NCSC are two cybersecurity authorities that have issued guidance on protecting against cyber attacks. In this atmosphere, organisations all across the world would be prudent to review their cybersecurity defences — since what comes next might be unexpected.

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