When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Future

Cyber War Chronicles: Meet The Hackers Taking On Russia

The war in Ukraine is not just being fought on the ground. The battle for dominance increasingly happens on the digital field, where a worldwide network of cyber-soldiers conduct attacks to disrupt Russia's war effort, from the outside and inside too.

Photo of a man in front of three computer screens

Pulling the digital trigger

Cameron Manley

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian hackers have been fighting tit for tat on what we can call the "digital front line." To quantify the firepower involved, the number of ransomware attacks on Russian companies has tripled since Feb. 28, according to Kaspersky Lab, a Russian multinational cybersecurity firm that found a direct link between the uptick in online targeting to the breakout of military conflict in Ukraine.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.


Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

At the same time, developers of information security solutions such as Fortinet, ESET, Avast and NortonLifeLock Inc. have left the Russian market, making it harder for companies to protect themselves against external attack.

Earning cash through online ransoms and blackmail has often served as the motivation for carrying out cyberattacks. But prior to the war, cybercriminals had tended to keep news headlines in mind when going after their targets — for example, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when users were faced with a large amount of spam and phishing emails.

The new motive for cyberattacks

In 2022, however, the face of cybercrime has evolved. Attacks are now driven more by personal motives and moral convictions than by a desire for financial gain.

The goal of new attacks is to block or complicate access to the victim’s data. Alexey Chuprinin, head of Application Security Softline, tells Russian business daily Kommersant that hackers are “not only targeting companies that are capable of paying a ransom, for example industry and finance — they are also targeting organizational structures, which can cause a public outcry.”

Using Russian ransomware against Russian companies seemed like the perfect '"f*ck you."

Immediately after the outbreak of war, Conti, a ransomware-as-a-service group, announced unequivocal support for the Russian government. In retaliation, a partner working from Ukraine, posted information about the identities of Conti members, as well as the source code of the ransomware program.

This “allowed hacktivists to use this family of programs against organizations in Russia,” said the head of the Group-IB digital forensics laboratory, Oleg Skulkin. It served as a means to protest against their own government anonymously.

Similarly, a representative of Ransomware group Network Battalion 65 (NB65) told Tech Novosti how a former member of the Russian group Trickbot leaked two years of chat logs as well as a host of operational data regarding their group.

“We took a copy of the source code and decided that it would be a good idea to use this ransomware against Russia. The irony of using Russian ransomware against Russian companies seemed like the perfect 'f*ck you,'" he said. "This is our way of saying 'Russian ship, Russian ship, this is Network Battalion 65. F*ck you!'"

Digital batallions

The Ukrainian government is welcoming this growth in hacking. Slava Banik, head of the IT Army Of Ukraine at the country's Ministry of Digital Transformation, tells Euronews that more than 300,000 people worldwide are using their computers to help disrupt Russia’s war efforts, as well as the everyday lives of Russian civilians.

It is a tactic that even ordinary non-tech-savvy citizens can resort to.

One way of doing this is to overload Russian websites with junk traffic, forcing them offline. It is a tactic that even ordinary non-tech-savvy citizens can resort to, and it can be used to target Russian banks, governmental websites and media.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army has grouped together around 3,000 IT specialists, divided in so-called digital "battalions," who carry out cyberattacks on Russian websites every day. All actions are coordinated with the main headquarters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kyiv.

War from the bedroom

In its latest report, Kaspersky Lab backs its thesis that cyber-incidents are politically motived, as variants of encryption programs that are made exclusively in Ukraine are involved in attacks on Russian resources.

One of the malwares recently discovered by experts was the Freeud viper, developed by pro-Ukrainian supporters. The ransom note sent after activating the program states that Russian troops must leave Ukraine.

“The choice of words and the way the note is written suggest that it was written by a native Russian speaker,” Kaspersky experts say.

Yes, the enemy (on or offline) can be where you least expect him.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Kharkiv Revisited: Inside Russia's New Assault On The "Hero City" Of Ukraine

The nation's second-largest city, Kharkiv was quiet for weeks after Ukrainian forces took control. But now it is again under attack as Russia pushes to capture the city that's considered the "gateway" to Ukraine. Die Welt reports from the frontline.

Damages due to Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine

Alfred Hackensberger

KHARKIV — "Come, I want to show you something," Denys Vezenych says, opening the door of his dental office.

The 40-year-old begins to tell the story in the waiting room: "It was April 16 when the Russian artillery shell hit. The windowpanes were broken, the walls had holes everywhere and the roof was destroyed. But I renovated everything."

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

The repairs cost him several thousand euros. "You have to think positively, because life goes on," he explains with a smile. But this attitude is not so present generally in Saltivka, a neighborhood in northeastern Kharkiv. The dental practice may be like new, but the rest of this area in the northeastern Ukrainian city is completely destroyed.

The Russian army has done a great job in its three-month offensive on Ukraine's second largest metropolis. Countless flats have been burned out, the facades of houses have been shot to pieces, entire shopping centers have been bombed. Debris still lie in the streets everywhere.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ