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In Ukraine, “hacktivists” confront Russia

From the first days of the Russian invasion, in February 2022, Artem understands that he will not be able to 'stand idly by'. Devoid of any military experience, he took up arms at home. his way: by joining a newly born Telegram channel, the IT Army of Ukraine.

This is one of the many hacker groups that have sprung up in the country to counter Russia and have since evolved in a space with very vague legal boundaries.

These young collectives, including the IT Army of Ukraine launched at the call of the Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhaïlo Fedorov, are officially independent of the State.< /p>

But the three groups interviewed by AFP claim to maintain links with the authorities and some openly carry out joint operations with the intelligence services.

Artem, who did not wish to give his last name for security reasons, has the feeling of fighting “on the digital front”, facing Russian hackers whose reputation is well established.

IT employee, he devotes a large part of his free time to the group.

“We are causing moral damage and economic to the aggressor country”, explains this thirty-year-old seated in a café in Kiev, next to his backpack marked with the Ukrainian trident, the national symbol.

The multiplication of these groups, made up of unpaid volunteers, disrupt the norms of war by placing civilians at the heart of operations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) considers “worrying” the growing involvement of these independent hackers in conflicts, particularly in Ukraine.

According to this organization, international law does not prohibit their existence but imposes rules, such as not targeting civilian targets.

Artem, who defines himself as “a +hacktivist+, not a hacker” because he does not “steal” anything, ensures that his group follows ethical rules.

“But our country is at war, and I think we have the right to defend ourselves on all fronts”, he pleads.< /p>

– “Red line” –

IT Army of Ukraine spokesperson Ted introduces as ” red line” attacks against humanitarian or health services.

On the other hand, the army, infrastructure and financial services are seen as legitimate targets, even if civilians may pay the price.

In Ukraine, “hacktivists” confront Russia

A web page of hackers from the IT Army of Ukraine group, February 26, 2024 in kyiv © AFP – Genya SAVILOV

“Cyber ​​war is a war against the economy”, he justifies himself, seeing his work as an equivalent to the sanctions decided by the West.

Ted believes that stricter regulations should be enacted. “But, let's be frank, what punishment could be imposed on Russia if it does not follow them? None.”

The IT Army of Ukraine says, for example, that it blocked payment services in Russia on New Year's Eve, causing economic losses, or that it paralyzed Russian airports last October.

< p>Its attacks are mainly carried out by “denial of service” (DDoS), a relatively simple method which consists of bringing down a system by overwhelming it with requests.

Other collectives consider it more effective to concentrate on collecting confidential information.

The Cyber ​​Regiment, which claims to have around fifty members, says for example having helped Ukrainian forces locate and “destroy” dozens of Russian battalions – allegations that the AFP cannot verify.

– No payment –

Serguiï Laba and Mikhaïlo Kounynets, co-founders of the group, affirm that they do not receive “orders” from the authorities, who have their own specialized teams, but rather suggestions for targets or requests for help.

In Ukraine, “hacktivists” confront Russia

The website of hackers from the IT Army of Ukraine group, February 26, 2024 in kyiv © AFP – Genya SAVILOV

“After all, we have the same goal,” notes Mr. Laba. He considers that he and his cyber-fighters serve as “extra pairs of hands”, like a subcontractor, against an adversary too massive to face alone.

< p>Nikita Knych, of the “Hackyourmom” collective, describes a similar connection.

“Are they paying me? No. Are they that I provide them with information? Yes”, assures this Ukrainian, who says he was employed by the country's security services (SBU) before the war.

“If you know how to hack, there’s no way you won’t work with security services,” he explains. “They will definitely want to call on you.”

Ted, from the IT Army of Ukraine, talks about “unofficial” relations and joint operations, there still without payment.

At the beginning of February, the group, for example, claimed responsibility for an attack with military intelligence (GUR) against Russian drone control software.

But the government “considers that as long as it is in a gray zone, they cannot fully support us” to avoid possible legal consequences, continues Ted.

At the request of AFP, the Ministry of Digital Transformation did not wish to comment.

The spokesperson hopes that his group will eventually gain a place in the “legal space.” And a little gratitude for his shadow fighters.

“The people who spent so much time doing all this want at least some official recognition,” says -il.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116