cyberattacks against Russia, the “cry of anger” of a volunteer army

” I have never seen this ! » Volodymyr “Bob” Diachenko, a Ukrainian cybersecurity consultant, knows this environment like the back of his hand. According to him, the mobilization of his peers following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in particular to carry out computer attacks against Russia, is commensurate with the events that are shaking the country: unprecedented.

Since February 24, the date of the beginning of the invasion by the Russian army, thousands of Internet users, with heterogeneous technical skills, have joined various groups intended to launch a maximum of computer attacks against Russian digital infrastructures.

“Everyone I know is involved, at different levels. No one stays away. It’s so simple now that anyone can use a computer program to attack Russian sites. There are instructions, including on official channels or in the media! »notes Bob Diachenko, on the phone from western Ukraine.

Proliferation of initiatives

This movement begins from the first days of the conflict, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transition calls on its citizens to join the IT Army of Ukraine. In a single day, 120,000 volunteers joined the Telegram group created for the occasion. Today there are more than 310,000. The administrators of this group have been posting lists of sites and computer servers to target. These are basic attacks, say “in denial of service”, which consist of artificially multiplying connections to a website in order to make it inaccessible. Banks, delivery services, media or companies participating in the infrastructure of the Russian Web: hundreds of targets have been designated.

Some groups also claim to be part of the Anonymous movement, giving a second wind to this “powerful imagination”, which has been losing ground for a few years. Thus, some accounts close to the current claimed responsibility for the piracy of Russian television channels, which are set to broadcast anti-war messages (an operation impossible to confirm).

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Other gatherings of volunteers come from Ukraine’s strong cybersecurity industrial fabric. A few months ago, Bohdan Ivashko worked for the video game giant Ubisoft, where he notably worked on cockfighting in far cry 6. Now employed in a cybersecurity start-up, he has just spent his last weeks building Death by a 1000 needles, a software designed to launch denial of service attacks. The latter has just been adopted by the IT Army of Ukraine group. “I felt guilty being in a rather safe part of Ukraine, and I couldn’t sit still while people were being killed,” he recalls today.

Sometimes entire companies get involved, such as Cyber ​​Unit Technology, which launched a bug bounty (“bug bounty”) a bit special. System usually linking hackers and companies – the former hacking the latter against remuneration in order to identify security flaws – it has been reversed here: Cyber ​​Unit Technology thus claims to remunerate hackers who would identify computer flaws in Russian companies in order to use these flaws in cyberattacks.

A Telegram group, where volunteers exchange tips and questions, has, of course, been set up.

Developers from the Lviv region have also spawned an online game, which, when opened on a computer or phone, actually launches attacks against Russian websites. Its creators claim to have made ” to fall “ the site of Rosneft, the oil giant. Another Ukrainian-based company, Hacken, has modified a tool it used to stress test its customers’ websites into software that anyone can download, called Liberator and designed to automatically attack Russian sites. A Telegram group, where volunteers exchange tips and questions, has, of course, been set up. Asked by The worldone of its developers claims two thousand daily users.

The risk of eliminating too visible activists

Older hacker groups have also joined the “dance”, such as the Belarusian Cyber ​​Partisans. This group, whose origin remains unclear and which has been fighting numerically against the Minsk regime for several months, has claimed the slowdown of part of the rail traffic in Belarus with the aim of thwarting the movements of Russian troops, Moscow using its neighbor as a rear base for its offensive in Ukraine.

Some attacks go further than simple denials of service, explains Bob Diachenko:

Another area where our skills are useful are more sophisticated attacks: breaking into email accounts, recovering sensitive data from military or government sites. These are things you wouldn’t dare even think of in peacetime, but today I feel like it’s the right thing to do.

These more advanced offensives are organized more discreetly. A former member of the Ukrainian intelligence services converted into cybersecurity, whom we contacted, refused to answer our questions, citing the risk that the Russians could physically eliminate any activist who was a little too visible.

This proliferation of initiatives is often directly encouraged, even organized, by the Ukrainian government, which finds in these mercenary pirates useful auxiliaries to complicate Russian digital life a little more. The Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhaïlo Fedorov, is the keystone of the system: it is he who is at the origin of IT Army of Ukraine. He was also the one who asked the leader of Cyber ​​Unit Technologies to form a team of hackers. Moreover, Mr Fedorov recognized this without hesitation in The world : “We have already carried out around fifty attacks”, he revealed, in the first person plural. In the columns ofHa’aretzhe also implies that the authorities provide the volunteers with lists of sites to attack.

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A noticeable impact

Difficult to assess with certainty the effectiveness of the attacks. A body of evidence, however, accredits the idea that they had a notable impact. Netblocks, an observatory of Internet connectivity, noted, a few days after the first offensives, that access to the sites of the Kremlin, the Russian Parliament or the Ministry of Defense was very difficult.

In the long term, Chris Partridge’s measurements confirm the effectiveness of the actions of the IT Army of Ukraine. This cybersecurity engineer, who works for Amazon, looked into the matter in his spare time. He has built a tool that checks, for each site targeted by the group of “hacktivists”, if it is still accessible. His measurements show that a good part of the sites attacked were, at least for a time, inaccessible in Russia.

The Russian ministry has officially offered banks help to fight against these offensives

Rostelecom-Solar, a Russian cybersecurity company, has announced that it has detected a significant increase in denial of service attacks during the first ten days of March. The Russian ministry has officially offered the banks, which are among the organizations targeted by the Ukrainian volunteers, help to fight against these offensives. But do they make a real difference in the conflict? “I don’t think these attacks are effective from a strategic point of view”concedes Bob Diachenko, who prefers to see in them “a kind of cry of anger from Ukrainian society”.

Participating in these attacks is not without risk. The specialized company Talos recently detected a program supposed to carry out cyberattacks against Russia which was in fact malware stealing the personal information of the person who downloads it. The irruption of so many civilians into the digital side of the war also raises new questions. One of the companies participating in this war effort, Hacken, is, for example, based in Estonia, in Tallinn, but most of its employees are currently in Spain, according to the site Politico. How can Russia perceive attacks from Western countries with which it is not in open conflict? Some experts fear an escalation in cyberspace.

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