While Russia has the greatest cyber security infrastructure in the world, it also has some of the best hackers globally. Despite Russia’s ability to create chaos through mayhem via malware and hacking, it still has not been able to pack a powerful cyber punch in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Internet is working and President Zelenskyy is able to rally global support through smartphone.
Facebook and Twitter recently removed anti-Ukraine “covert influence operations” from their platforms. One of them has been linked to Russia and the other one having Belarusian connections. Both these social media operations were aimed at making Ukraine seem like a failed state. These campaigns were not very effective, as per Meta’s head of security Nathaniel Gleicher.
Why hasn’t Russia been able to utilise its malware and hacking arsenal to its full potential?
According to experts, it is a cyber free-for-all that risks escalating, a moment already fraught with danger after Russian President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on alert.
A former White House cybersecurity coordinator Micheal Daniel underscored in a conversation with the Associated Press, “It has not played as large a component as some people thought it might and it definitely has not been seen outside of Ukraine to the extent that people feared.”
Director of Google’s threat analysis group Shane Huntley told The New York Times, “Many people are quite surprised that there isn’t significant integration of cyberattacks into the overall campaign that Russia is undertaking in Ukraine.”
Huntley added that this is business as normal when we take into account the level of cyberattacks backed by Russia and also stated that Google regularly observes some Russian attempts to hack Ukrainian accounts. He said, “The normal level is actually never zero.”
Many cybersecurity experts believe the Kremlin prefers to keep Ukraine’s communications open for the intelligence value. They also believe that the conflict’s early days have been marked by lower level cyberattacks that appear to be done both by freelancers and state actors.
Ukraine’s offensive against Russian and Belarusian attacks
Meanwhile, some hacker armies in Ukraine are taking credit for takedowns of Russian government and media sites. A volunteer group – IT Army of Ukraine—has over 230,000 followers on Telegram and is continuously listing targets like Russian banks and crypto exchanges for hackers.
Ukraine’s SBU made the recruitment of allied volunteer hackers official. SBU said on its Telegram channel, “CYBER FRONT IS NOW OPEN! Help Ukrainian cyber experts hack occupant’s platforms!” It also sought tips on vulnerabilities in Russian cyber defenses including software bugs and login credentials.
Another hacker group Belarus Cyber Partisans claimed that it disrupted rail services in Belarus and it has also been trying to impact the movements of Russian troops and hardware via Belarus.
Sergey Voitekhovich, a former Belarusian railway worker, said that the Cyber Partisans’ hack impacted train traffic in Belarus for 90 minutes and noted that electronic ticket sales were not functioning as of Monday evening.
“It shouldn’t be surprising that Ukraine is dipping into all possible resources to fight off the Russians, a much stronger foe. Just like civilians are coming out to fight in the street, it doesn’t surprise me that they are trying to call forward civilians to support this through the digital space,” retired Army colonel and a general counsel to US Cyber Command Gary Corn said.
(With AP, New York Times inputs)
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