‘Hacktivists’ plot attacks on Russia at insistence of Ukrainian government

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Hackers are coming to Ukraine’s aid in a bid to target Russian government websites and officials with disruptive counterattacks, according to six people involved in the activity.

On Ukrainian internet forums on Friday, groups of Ukrainians who worked in the country’s tech sector shared information on how to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, known as DDoS, and how to deploy software. malware targeting Russian military officers and government officials. Some hackers from outside Ukraine have also signed up to help.

Several Ukrainian computer experts said they have joined a group of “cybervolunteers” who plan to use cyberattacks to fight the Russian military’s invasion of the country.

The improvised organization of hackers was responding to a call from the Ukrainian government, which on Thursday asked for their help to protect the country from Russian troops, according to several of the organizers. Reuters previously reported the government’s request for cybersecurity assistance.

Yegor Aushev, co-founder of Kyiv-based cybersecurity firm Cyber ​​Unit Technologies, is helping organize the effort. He said Friday that so far around 500 people have come forward to participate with the cybervolunteers.

Aushev said people from all over the world had volunteered to help the Ukrainian hacking operation, including a handful of Russians who were against their government’s actions in Ukraine. “If the presidents of other countries cannot fight with Ukraine, the people of other countries are ready to do so,” Aushev said. Bloomberg could not independently verify that the Russians were involved in the pro bono hacking effort.

A representative of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry and government cybersecurity officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Tanya Lokot, an associate professor at Dublin City University who specializes in protest and digital rights issues in Eastern Europe, said Ukraine has a strong community of activist hackers, sometimes called “hacktivists”, who reunited in 2014, in response to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.

“I think it makes sense that we’re seeing a revival of these groups and more people joining them,” Lokot said.

DDoS attacks aimed at taking Russian government websites offline have so far been mostly symbolic, Lokot added, but hackers could have an impact if they are able to break into Russian government databases and to publish the information.

“Russia is fortified in terms of attack and security, but no resource, server or database is 100% watertight,” she said.

On social media forums, Ukrainian hackers shared target lists including Russian military officials and the websites of the Kremlin, the Russian military and security council. Others circulated instructions on how to prepare Molotov cocktails in anticipation of the arrival of Russian troops on their towns and villages.

Andrey Loginov, chief technology officer of Swiss secure communications company ARMA Instruments AG, said he was committed to helping cybervolunteers. Loginov, a Ukrainian who lives in London, said he arrived in Kyiv for a business trip last week and could not leave due to the Russian invasion.

The volunteers are trying to create “a kind of cyber warfare unit for Ukraine”, using a combination of government and non-government resources, Loginov said. He said the hackers involved in the group were focused on analytical and offensive cyber work and planned to carry out “asymmetrical actions” that would bring information about the conflict to the people of Russia.

“Russian citizens are victims of propaganda,” he said. “They are quite isolated. We want to show them what’s really going on.

Another volunteer who signed up for the hacking campaign, a 17-year-old computer science student in western Ukraine, said he wanted to use his skills to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia. The situation “depends on each of us”, said the student, and “we must help in any way possible”. He asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Ukrainians have received support from a group of Belarusian militant hackers known as Cyber ​​Partisans, who have waged campaigns against the pro-Russian government in their country. The group said it was joining the effort to hack into Russian government assets and issued a social media plea on Thursday asking for help in what it called a “fight against the fascist campaign aimed at invading fraternal Ukraine”.

A Cyber ​​Partisans spokesperson said in a post that the group is “currently targeting assets inside Belarus, including Russian occupation forces.” The spokesperson declined to provide further details on the grounds that the attack was still ongoing.

Some hackers affiliated with the collective known as Anonymous declared their own “cyber war” on the Russian government and said they had used DDoS attacks to take down the website of Russia’s state broadcaster RT. Their claim could not be independently verified.

On Friday, RT reported that its website – along with those of the Kremlin, the Duma and the Russian Ministry of Defense – had been hit by cyberattacks, with some of the websites taken offline for “extended periods”. RT told publication Motherboard that it suffered massive DDoS attacks after a statement from Anonymous.

Russian hackers have vowed to fight back. A ransomware criminal gang known as Conti, which cybersecurity researchers say operates from Russia, said in a statement on its website on Friday that it gave its “full support” to the Russian government. “If someone decides to mount a cyberattack or war activities against Russia, we will use all our possible resources to retaliate against an enemy’s critical infrastructure,” he said.

Shlomo Kramer, a prominent Israeli cybersecurity veteran, said he fears hacking campaigns by competing groups in Ukraine and Russia are quickly spiraling out of control.

“It can cause overflow, that’s the main concern,” said Kramer, who is CEO of Cato Networks Ltd. and co-founder of Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. and Imperva Inc. “The fact that it’s not associated with the government — it can’t be contained. That’s a particularly dangerous part of this conflict.

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