As Ukraine continues to mobilize and equip regular residents on the ground to oppose Russia’s unjustified invasion, those who live outside the nation who wish to aid are being invited to join the fight in the cyber realm. While the G7 (plus Japan) prepares to block Russia’s access to the Swift financial system, the nation has been waging a drive to recruit developers to join a “IT army” entrusted with specific cyber issues. It’s also making explicit requests of technology leaders to help.
The “IT Army of Ukraine,” which was announced yesterday and already has nearly 184,000 users on its main Telegram channel (and that number is growing – it gained nearly 10,000 users since I wrote this story), is using that account to name specific projects and call-outs for help shutting down Russian sites, Russian agents, and those working in concert with the country, as well as mobilize those living in Ukraine around work they can do. (For those who don’t use Telegram, it also has a gmail address: email@example.com.) We contacted that address to see if the organizers would be willing to talk more about the project with us.)
And it appears to be moving forward. A request on the channel earlier today to take down the API for Sberbank, one of Russia’s main banks, appears to have worked, since the site is presently down. Similarly, Belorussia’s main information policy website was pulled offline after a call out on the channel, according to the country. It’s using a sarcastically humorous approach, similar to Anonymous and other activist hacker organizations when they go against specific targets. According to Russian media, “unbelievable cyberattacks struck Russian governmental services portal, Kremlin, Parliament, First Channel, Aerospace, and Railroad websites on February 26th.” “‘Over one terabyte capacity comprised fifty plus DDoS-attacks.’ Who did that? 😉 What a shameful accident.”
The project is gaining traction thanks to word of mouth and support from government officials who are tweeting the link. (However, it is unclear whether the government is behind it.) “We’re putting together an IT army.” On Twitter, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, stated, “We need digital talents.” “Everyone will be assigned a duty. On the cyber front, we continue to battle. The first duty for cyber professionals is on the channel.”
Fedorov hasn’t been squandering his comments on social media. He’s also targeted Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, urging them to utilize their platforms and current goods to help with the attempts to block access to Facebook platforms in Russia and to expand Starlink access to Ukraine to provide customers with data backup. It’s a mixed bag when it comes to success: The Starlink satellites have already been trained over Ukraine, according to Musk, but the Facebook request appears to be moving at a slower pace (ads have been banned but it seems access has not been, at least so far).
Fedorov also handed DMarket, a website where people sell NFTs and other virtual products, a namecheck for blocking accounts for Russian and Belarussian users because the revenues may be used to fund their anti-Ukraine actions. Overall, the country’s stance on cryptocurrency platforms has been positive, with the official Ukraine Twitter account yesterday announcing addresses for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tether donations (USDT). Many suspected the account had been hacked, however that Tweet has now been pinned and appears to be serious. Despite this, there is no certainty in the scramble about how that money would be recovered or what it would be utilized for.
All of this demonstrates how quickly things change in the tech world, and how much is reliant on its operating. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the Swift financial messaging network’s shutdown, which, ironically, may take longer than expected because it will require not only states to take a stand but also member institutions — Swift includes 11,000 banks and other financial services companies in 200 countries — to turn off their systems.