On Thursday, hackers defaced a Russian Space Research Institute website and leaked files they believe were stolen by Roscosmos, Russia's space agency. Your message? "Leave Ukraine alone, otherwise Anonymous will piss you off even more." Meanwhile, the Russian "top-level domain" .ru was hit by a DDoS attack with the aim of accessing all URLs ending in .ru , essentially cutting them. These are just the latest incidents in a wave of pro-Ukrainian hacktivism.
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Demonstrations against Russia's election campaign with Ukraine took place around the world, including in 48 Russian cities. The global community has raised millions for Ukraine through cryptocurrency donations, and private companies from Shell and BP to Apple have temporarily or permanently pulled out of the Russian market. Amid the chaos, hacktivists join the cacophony to make a statement and advance their cause.
For years, Russia has bombarded Ukraine with a series of intrusive and destructive cyberattacks. And the war has started in recent days with Russian campaigns to attack Ukrainian institutions with DDoS and to reawaken data-erasing malware on hundreds of Ukrainian computers. Ukraine itself has struggled to assemble a volunteer “IT army” of civilian hackers from around the world to help them in their fight, alongside traditional conscription. As back-and-forths in the region escalated into violence and NATO allies hit Russia with crippling economic sanctions, hacktivist data leaks, website defacing and cyberattacks have become one of the most visible, if not the most influential, digital battlegrounds.
The mix of hacktivism and active warfare creates a chaotic picture, experts say. Some warn that hacktivism could lead to unintended escalations or compromise intelligence operations. Others argue that periods of active struggle make hacktivism even more ineffective and largely distracting than in times of peace.
"This is a high-intensity armed conflict between two states with heavy kinetic warfare, civilian casualties and physical destruction," says Lukasz Olejnik, independent cybersecurity researcher and former cyberwarfare adviser to the International Committee of Red Cross. “Let's be honest, what can hacktivism change in this picture? Moreover, most reports of hacktivism are at best unverifiable. They are heavily amplified on social media and traditional electronic media, but what is the real impact? »
Last but not least, the efforts of the hacktivists were highly visible. As Russia began invading Ukraine on Thursday, hacker collective Anonymous tweeted that it was "officially engaged in a cyberwar against the Russian government." The group claimed responsibility for attacks that briefly cut off access to a number of websites, including those of Russian news agency RT, Russian oil giant Gazprom, the Kremlin itself and other Russian government agencies. . A degradation of ship tracking data led to Putin's yacht being renamed "FCKPTN" in ship tracking data. Soon after, two groups known as "Anonymous Liberland" and "The Pwn-Bear Hack" leaked alleged emails worth around 200 gigabytes from Belarusian arms maker Tetraedr.