Volunteer hackers meet over Ukraine conflict without anyone to blame

Ukraine has been more in-depth about recruiting a volunteer hacking force. In Telegram channels, participants cheer for their cooperation with the government in the hunt for targets such as Sberbank, Russia’s state-owned bank. From Russia, where links between the government and hacking groups have long drawn alarm among Western officials, there hasn’t been the same kind of public calls for action.

“We are creating an IT army,” Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Mikhailo Fedorov, wrote on Twitter on Saturday, directing cybersecurity enthusiasts to a Telegram channel with instructions to hit Russian websites offline. “There will be tasks for everyone.” By Friday, the Telegram channel had over 285,000 subscribers.

Inside the English-language Telegram main page of Ukraine’s IT Army is a 14-page introductory document that provides details on how people can participate, including software that must be downloaded to hide their whereabouts and identity. Every day, new targets are listed, including websites, telecom companies, banks and ATM processors.

Igor Oshev, co-founder of Ukrainian cybersecurity firm Cyber ​​Unit Technologies, said he was inundated with comments after posting on social media a call for programmers to participate. His company offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who identified flaws in the Russian Cyber ​​Targets code.

Mr. Oshef said there are more than 1,000 people involved in his efforts, working in close cooperation with the government. People were not allowed to join unless someone endorsed them. Organized in small groups, they aimed to hit high-impact targets such as the Russian military’s critical infrastructure and logistical systems.

“It has become an autonomous machine, a distributed international digital army,” said Mr. Oshef. “The biggest hacks against Russia will be coming soon,” he added, without going into details.

A government spokesperson confirmed work with Mr. Oshef.

It is always difficult to know who is behind a cyber attack. Groups wrongly take credit or boast more influence than what actually happened. But this week there have been a series of attacks against Russian targets. The country’s largest stock exchange, a bank controlled by the state and the Russian Foreign Ministry, has been suspended for some time after it was targeted by volunteer hackers in Ukraine.

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