Willing hackers converge on conflict in Ukraine with no one in charge

Ukraine has been more deliberate about recruiting a volunteer hacking force. On Telegram channels, participants applaud their collaboration with the government to tackle targets such as Sberbank, the Russian state bank. From Russia, where government ties to hacking groups have long raised alarm bells among Western officials, there haven’t been the same kind of overt calls to action.

“We are creating an IT army,” Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted on Saturday, directing cybersecurity enthusiasts to a Telegram channel with instructions for taking Russian websites offline. “There will be tasks for everyone.” On Friday, the Telegram channel had more than 285,000 subscribers.

Inside the main page of Telegram in English for the Computer Army of Ukraine is a 14-page introductory document providing details on how people can participate, including software to download to hide their location and identity. Every day new targets are listed, including websites, telecommunications companies, banks and ATM processors.

Yegor Aushev, co-founder of Ukrainian cybersecurity firm Cyber ​​Unit Technologies, said he was inundated with notes after he posted on social media a call for programmers to get involved. His company has offered a $100,000 reward to those who identify flaws in the code of Russian cyber targets.

Mr Aushev said more than 1,000 people were involved in his efforts, working closely with the government. People were only allowed to join if someone vouched for them. Organized in small groups, they aimed to hit high-impact targets such as infrastructure and logistics systems important to the Russian military.

“It has become an independent machine, a distributed international digital army,” Mr. Aouchev said. “The biggest hacks against Russia will be soon,” he added, without giving further details.

A government spokesperson confirmed the work with Mr. Aouchev.

It is always difficult to determine who is behind a cyberattack. Groups falsely take credit or brag about a greater impact than has actually occurred. But this week there has been a series of attacks on Russian targets. The country’s largest stock exchange, a state-controlled bank and the Russian Foreign Ministry have been taken offline for some time after being targeted by volunteer Ukrainian hackers.

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