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Hacktivists up the ante in ‘cyberwar’ against Russia

Hacktivist groups are continuing to punish Russia with a multi-pronged digital assault. Last week, decentralised groups released some 820GB of sensitive files, crashed the Moscow Stock Exchange website, and hijacked live Russian TV broadcasts.

Whether you cheered or rolled your eyes at its declaration of ‘cyberwar,’ the rogue hacker outfit Anonymous has returned to make trouble for Russia.

Back in late February, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov announced the formation of a volunteer-led cyber army which currently stands at 300,000 skilled IT professionals.

Creating a legitimate bridge between decentralised digital activism and state sponsored hacking seemed a pretty big deal, but Ukraine’s so-called IT Army quickly had its thunder stolen by the familiar caricature of Guy Fawkes on YouTube.

Over the thematic backdrop of grainy protest clips and noughties voice changers, Anonymous revealed its own #OpRussia vendetta (if you will), which would see it target thousands of websites and unearth Kremlin military files.

‘We, as activists, will not sit idle as Russian forces kill and murder innocent people trying to defend their homeland,’ the group said on Twitter.

In the weeks that followed, both entities have been very busy, evidence of outside hacktivists is circulating, and Russia continues its own barrage of cyberattacks against Ukraine.

Taking exception to Vladimir Putin’s aggressive crackdown on social media platforms — and the draconian ‘fake news’ law he’s enforced — Anonymous has allegedly targeted Roskomnadzor, the Russian agency responsible for censoring national media.

The group supposedly stole 820 gigabytes of emails and attachments, with some as new as March 5th and shared them publicly on Substack under the title ‘Distributed Email of Secrets.’ This action was taken pre-emptively, on a hunch that Russia may cut its internet access nationwide by Friday.

Prior to this, Anonymous had been DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacking 1,500 Russian websites — funnelling so much user traffic that servers are overwhelmed and taken offline — and even hijacking state media television channels to display pro-Ukraine images.

Just earlier today, the CALL TO ACTIVISM Twitter account said that Anonymous had sent out over 7 million anti-war texts to Russian citizens exposing the truth about Putin’s invasion.

While we can ratify some of the reports with evidence on social media and internet forums, predictably, clout chasing is still going on.

In one instance, an Anon Twitter account claimed to have fried the central control system for Russia’s satellites. This was instantly debunked by cybersecurity firm Check Point who found that old footage had been reused from YouTube.

When it comes to the more coordinated efforts of Ukraine’s IT Army, this collective has predominantly focused on hindering the flow of Russian finances. So far, DDoS attacks have been carried out on targets from gas, oil, and even the Moscow Stock Exchange — which it managed to suspend for an entire day last week.

Bear in mind that while this is happening, western sanctions continue to batter the market value of the ruble anyway. Over the weekend, internet traffic company Cloudflare reported a ‘marked increase’ in DDoS attacks stemming from Ukraine and the official Kremlin website went offline too.

As it stands, activism is only warming up on the digital front and you can bet efforts will go up a notch should further censorship measures be taken by Putin.

It’s certainly encouraging to see people improvising to fight acts of tyranny. In the scramble to make a difference, however, there will be collateral damage down the line. Many are starting to question: just how safe is our data?

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