Highlights

  • The online battlefield of the Ukraine-Russia war
  • How social media misinformation is affecting conflict
  • Hackers are trying to disrupt war efforts

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Ukraine-Russia war: How hackers are fighting on the online battlefield

The Ukraine-Russia war is notable for also being fought on the digital frontier. Find out how misinformation campaigns and hackers are fighting in the conflict that’s been called World Cyberwar I.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a major conflict between two European countries, and caused Europe’s worst refugee crisis in the 21st century. While conflict continues on the ground between Russian and Ukrainian forces, this war is also notable for being fought on the digital frontier. It’s been called the first TikTok war, or World Cyberwar I.

From misinformation campaigns on social media, to hackers trying to crack the security of government accounts and websites, for this war, the battlefield is also online.

Misinformation campaigns

Both sides in the war have been using social media to rally support and spread both information and misinformation. Apps like Telegram have become a virtual battleground, where official sources directly communicate their side of the war efforts to interested users.

Ukraine has used the internet to rally public opinion in its favour, and ask for support. Videos of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walking around in devastated cities, and statements emphasising his willingness to stay and fight, have been widely shared by users across the globe.

Ukraine has also been able to crowdsource a ‘virtual army’ to fight the information war. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation, has openly called for people with ‘digital talents’ to join a Telegram group, where they will be given tasks to continue the fight on the cyber front. In March, he told TIME magazine that the global IT army was 3 lakh people strong.

Russia has had a more difficult time with social media campaigning, partly because mainstream western public opinion is very pro-Ukraine, and partly because websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have taken steps to remove Russian misinformation campaigns and restrict Russian news sources.

Russia has retaliated by blocking access to many of these networks, and encouraging citizens to turn to pro-Kremlin channels on Telegram to get their information.

Russia has also worked to control the perception of the war within its own borders. According to website Politico, the general perception of the Ukraine war on Russian state-owned media is very different from what global audiences have seen. Local news agencies and state-owned media have pushed claims that Ukraine started the conflict, or that America was helping develop bioweapons in Ukraine.

Platforms are also having a difficult time keeping up with the misinformation. According to Reneé DiResta, researcher at Stanford Internet Observatory, TikTok is having a difficult time moderating misinformation on its platform, which continues to run rampant. An investigation by NewsGuard found that new TikTok users were shown misinformation about the war within 40 minutes of creating a new account.

Also Read: Ukraine war: meet Iryna Venediktova, who is fighting to make Russia pay

Hackers

While social media is one virtual battlefront, hackers from both sides have also been busy at work trying to disrupt war efforts.

Ukraine's State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection, has said that cyber attacks on the country’s critical internet infrastructure have risen by 400% since the invasion. Targets have included state and local authorities, the security and defence sector, financial companies, satellite telecommunications, and the energy sector. Russia-backed hackers recently hacked into a number of Ukrainian military accounts on Facebook, and then posted videos urging the Ukrainian army to surrender.

Pro-Ukraine hackers have also been conducting attacks of their own. A video uploaded on February 27 to a YouTube channel that claims to represent hacking group Anonymous, declares war on Russia, promising to disrupt services in the country. I should point out here that there’s no official group known as Anonymous, and different groups of hackers keep using the name.

Since then, many Russian companies and institutions have been hit by hacks that leaked sensitive data. Hundreds of gigabytes of data were leaked from a Belarusian weapons manufacturer, Russia’s Space Research Institute, and the country’s primary censorship agency.

The aforementioned Ukrainian IT Army has also been carrying out DDoS attacks, which disrupt services, on targets like Russian gas, oil, and infrastructure companies, the Moscow Stock Exchange, and the Kremlin’s official website.

Also Watch: How phones get hacked (and how you can stay safe)

World Cyberwar 1

Although the term World Cyberwar 1 is very dramatic, there is a distinct 21st century tinge to the current war in Ukraine. Along with fighting on the ground, the war also continues online, with new forms of conflict the world has never seen at this scale. Given the fog of war, and the secretive nature of cybersecurity, we will undoubtedly learn more about cyberwarfare efforts on both sides in times to come.

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