Propaganda war overshadows cyber warfare in Ukraine

“We’ve never seen all these different players show up like this before,” said Adam Meyers, senior vice president of US cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.

But when millions of people in city centers are under intense shelling, what is the real value of leaked databases and crippled websites? And how much impact has this international “army” really had? It is very difficult to say. When IT Troops sends out an IP address, the target usually goes down — usually sooner rather than later. Many Russian sites currently operate only within Russia because they deny all foreign contacts, a defense against an unprecedented international attack on this scale. .

But denial-of-service attacks are technically simple, easily reversible, and much less destructive than Russian missiles hitting city centers and Ukrainian Molotov cocktails being thrown to push. repel the invading army.

All of these play a role in the information war that is happening in both countries and around the world. Russian attacks on the Ukrainian government and financial institutions in the days leading up to the invasion appear designed to undermine confidence in Kyiv’s leadership ability. Likewise, efforts by the Ukrainian government to take down Russian government websites and broadcast their own messages inside Russia have become Kyiv’s trademark of information warfare. Ukraine’s resistance on land and on the cyber front is bolstered by support from the West, a vital lifeline as the country’s capital is almost completely besieged.

“Cyberspace is a tool used in warfare and handicrafts,” says Meyers. “There is an open armed conflict going on. This is no different from Ukraine asking people to come to the country to get a Kalashnikov and help fight the Russians on the ground.”

But the picture looks a little different when you’re in Washington or London. For years, Western governments have condemned cyberattacks from Russian soil. What happens when Ukraine is openly calling on hackers for help?

“Despite the US government saying that ‘We do not allow attackers to use US routers to carry out DDoS attacks on your state propaganda websites’, Russia will probably don’t believe it,” said Michael E. van Landingham, a former Russia analyst. at the CIA. “Russia uses cyber tools as an extension of state power. And Russia’s leaders mirror many images. I think they would consider attacks from Anonymous or any Western collective as attacks promoted by Western governments.”

Much of what the Ukrainian IT Army is promoting is clearly a crime in the United States and every Western country. But the situation raises more than legal questions; it also forces new ethical and geopolitical questions to the fore.

“Governments in the West should strictly enforce anti-hacking laws against anyone trying to sabotage or DDoS Russian websites or do anything [illegal] in the network sector,” said van Landingham. “That was the only signal we had to show it wasn’t a CIA plot, this wasn’t a Cyber ​​Command attack — this is who it is and this is what we’re doing about it. it.”

Despite the turbulent environment, the seemingly lack of large verifiable cyber operations coinciding with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was one of the great unknowns that remained throughout the entire war. Russia has waged devastating cyberattacks on Ukraine in recent years but has so far stuck with traditional warfare since its invasion. The question is whether it can still move to cyberspace in the coming weeks and months as the war drags on.

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