Ukraine cyber-security ministry claims it is fending off devastating Russian cyber-attacks on infrastructure, defends formation of volunteer ‘IT Army’
Ukraine’s IT security authority has called its conflict with Russia the first “hybrid war” that is being fought on the ground as well as in cyberspace.
A top cyber-security official said hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian technology workers have taken part in attacks on Russian government, media and financial institutions in recent days.
Viktor Zhora, deputy chief of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection, which is responsible for the country’s cyber-security, said the country’s “IT Army” could number more than 400,000 people inside and outside the country.
Zhora described the conflict as unprecedented in its extension into the digital realm.
“These two wars (we are fighting) are part of this hybrid war,” he said in the first press conference since the invasion just over one week ago.
“This is happening for the first time in history and I believe that cyber-war can only be ended with the end of conventional war, and we will do everything we can to bring this moment closer.”
Zhora said his teams have successfully fended off devastating Russian cyber-attacks and “they are not afraid” of Russian attacks on power grids or nuclear sites.
Hackers thought to be linked to the Russian government caused power cuts to Ukrainian cities in 2015 and 2016.
The NotPetya malware attack in 2017 was also attributed to Russia by Western intelligence services.
The US and UK have also blamed Russian military hackers for at least one low-level cyber-attack on Ukrainian government and financial services websites in the weeks leading up to the invasion.
While fending off further cyber-disruption, the ministry has also controversially formed an “IT Army” of volunteers that it has called upon to disrupt Russian targets, including transport and power networks.
A Telegram group for the organisation has more than 270,000 members.
Zhora said the cyber-army is a “volunteer movement” and that attacks are not being carried out on civilian networks.
“We call it a cyber-resistance and we’re doing everything possible to protect our land and our cyber-space. We are trying to protect our networks and to make the aggressor feel uncomfortable with their actions in cyber-space and in Ukrainian land,” he said.
“These cyber-warriors are not targeting civil targets, they are targeting military and government targets.”
It is highly unusual for a government to officially associate itself with illegal hacking activities.
Independent hackers, such as the Anonymous group, have also taken credit for disrupting Russian websites and services.
Zhora said the circumstances called for unusual tactics.
“We do not welcome any illegal activity in cyber-space. We believe that every part should be responsible with their actions. But the world order changed on 24 February,” he said.
“We have a martial law here in Ukraine and I don’t think that appealing to moral principles works, since our enemy doesn’t have any principles.”