Volunteer hackers price the cyber war between Russia and Ukraine

Hackers have claimed responsibility for a number of disturbances in some websites belonging to the two sides of the conflict in the Russian-Ukrainian war during the past week, which confused the parties involved in the cyber war.

The confusion comes because these hackers are volunteers and are not under the supervision of any state, which means that countries' accounts do not matter to them, which has led to widespread disruption, confusion and chaos, and researchers fear that this may provoke more serious attacks by state hackers, which may lead To escalate the war on the ground, or harm civilians, according to a report by the New York Times.

These volunteer hackers shut down Russian and Ukrainian government websites and put anti-war messages on media home pages.

"It's crazy, this is unprecedented," said Matt Olney, director of threat intelligence at security firm Cisco Talos. "This will not just be a conflict between states. There will be participants who are not under the strict control of any government."

Online battles have blurred the lines between state-backed hackers and national hobbyists, making it difficult for governments to understand who is attacking them and how to retaliate.

But both Ukraine and Russia seem to have embraced tech-savvy volunteers, creating channels on the Telegram chat app to direct them to target specific websites.

The intruders interfered in previous international conflicts such as the Syrian revolution, but experts believe that the current participation attracted more participants; Hundreds of hackers showed up to support their governments in a massive and unexpected expansion of electronic warfare.

The involvement of volunteer hackers complicates efforts by governments to determine who is responsible for online attacks. Some of the hackers said they were Ukrainians living inside and outside the country, while others revealed that they were from other countries, but were interested in the current conflict. It is therefore impossible in some circumstances to verify their identities.

The attacks of these hackers differ from the complex incursions by state hackers in recent years.

While Russian government hackers have quietly infiltrated U.S. government agencies and companies, these participants have loudly declared their allegiances and used easier tactics to bring down or deface websites.

Although their tactics have appeared successful in some cases, security researchers note that it is unrealistic to believe that cyberattacks from volunteer hackers without specialized technical expertise will play a critical role in the military campaign on the ground.

"The ground invasion is advancing, people are suffering, buildings are being destroyed ... Cyber ​​attacks cannot realistically affect that," said Lukas Olignik, an independent cybersecurity researcher and former cyber-warfare adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

Ukraine has been more active in recruiting a volunteer hacking force; On Telegram channels, participants announce their support for the Ukrainian government in hunting down targets such as Russia's state-owned bank Sberbank.

In Russia, where links between the government and hacker groups have long worried Western officials, there has not been the same kind of hacker adoption of responsibility.

Technical army to support Ukraine

Today, Saturday, the Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation, Mikhailo Fedorov, tweeted, "We are building an army of IT experts," asking cybersecurity enthusiasts to go to the Telegram channel, which contains instructions for attacking Russian sites.

The number of subscribers to the Telegram channel called "Ukraine's Cyber Army" has reached more than 285,000 subscribers on the English-language homepage.

Ukraine's military has released a 14-page white paper that provides details of how people participated in the attacks, including what software to download, to conceal their whereabouts and identities.

And every day, new targets are included, including websites, telecoms companies and banks.

Igor Oshev, the co-founder of the Ukrainian cybersecurity company Cyber ​​Unit Technologies, said he received many requests after posting on social media an invitation to programmers to participate, in which his company offered a reward of $100,000 to those who identified flaws. In Russian Cyber ​​Target Programs.

Oshef said more than 1,000 people have responded to his call, and are cooperating closely with the government. People are only allowed to join if a close associate supports them. Organized in small groups, they aim to hit high-impact targets such as the Russian military's critical infrastructure and logistical systems.

Russia's hacker supporters are working too

On the other hand, in a channel on Telegram called "Russian Cyber Front", pro-Russian hackers were directed to target a Ukrainian government website, from which they could access digital copies of driver's licenses, passports and other documents.

Over the past two weeks, there have been a number of cyberattacks on Ukrainian targets without clear evidence of who was behind the attacks, according to the Cyber ​​Peace Institute, which tracks cybersecurity events in war.

Microsoft said this week that Russia-linked malware targeted Ukrainian government computer systems in the days before the war, and Ukrainian officials said Russia was likely behind another attack that destroyed some mobile phone services. According to the Cyber ​​Peace Institute, there have been unattributed attacks on the English language news agency Kyiv Post and a border control station where people were fleeing to Romania.

And last week, the ransomware group known as “Conte” announced its support for Russia, saying - in an online statement - “If anyone decides to organize a cyber attack or any military activities against Russia, we will use all our possible resources to respond to critical enemy infrastructures. The group is known for its ransomware attacks, where it hacks websites and charges companies to bring it back.

But days after this announcement, the internal files of Conti's group began leaking online, an apparent result of a hacking operation against the group, as the files revealed discussions between members of the group and some of the digital wallets they used to hold the cryptocurrency.

Belarusian hackers support Ukraine

In neighboring Belarus, a hacking activist group called “Cyber ​​Partisans” said it targeted train services in Belarus that were transporting Russian military supplies to Ukraine, although there is no confirmed information from independent sources on how successful it has been. these operations.

Cyber ​​Partisans, which were formed in 2020 to oppose the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, have become a model for hacking enthusiasts who leak vast amounts of information from government and police databases.

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