Kyiv’s “IT army” could undermine Russia’s war narratives.
Cyberconflict between nation states is usually fought in the shadows, only trickling out into the public view in bits and pieces. So Moscow took an unusual step on March 29 when it issued a public statement that accused the United States of being behind a “cyberwar” against Russia, detailing what it claimed were cyberoperations by “anonymous hackers and provocateurs” backed by the U.S. government and threatening “grave consequences.” Amid warnings by the White House that Russia is exploring cyberattack options against the United States, the Russian statement may indicate a real threat to U.S. infrastructure, Foreign Policy reports.
The source of Moscow’s fiery rhetoric is a volunteer international hacker movement that has been targeting Russia since the start of its invasion of Ukraine. When Ukraine came under a barrage of Russia-linked cyberattacks leading up to and during the invasion, there was little the Ukrainian government could do to fight back. Kyiv has yet to establish the offensive military cyber force that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree to form last August.
That is probably why on Feb. 26, Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov took a step no other government official in the world likely ever has: He publicly called on volunteer hackers to take down another country’s websites. And he had a list of 31 Russian government, bank, and corporation websites ready to go. Within days, Ukraine had amassed an “IT army” of more than 400,000 volunteers.
This undertaking risks escalation that will be hard to contain, as Moscow seeks to associate attacks by pro-Ukraine hackers with Western governments and may use that as a false pretext to target Western infrastructure. Although these volunteer hackers will almost certainly not have widespread destructive effects, in the long term, their actions could also undermine Russian war narratives, reduce domestic support in Russia for the invasion, and weaken Russian ransomware groups.
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