Update: The Online War In Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine is the first conflict to use the Internet as an alternative front-line. The cyber attacks are increasing and there is an increase in online censorship, the spread of disinformation, and Ukraine's Internet facing disruption as missiles fall. 

Unfolding events in Ukraine 12 days after the invasion began are sparking international outrage and alarm. President Putin’s war aims and his long record of denying Ukraine’s right to exist paint an even darker picture of what may now lie ahead. 

Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor, which is the Russian federal executive agency responsible for monitoring, controlling and censoring Russian mass media, has ordered media outlets in the country to remove reports describing the attacks on Ukraine as an “assault, invasion, or declaration of war”, or face being blocked and fined. Roskomnadzor has accused several independent media outlets of spreading “unreliable socially significant untrue information” about the shelling of Ukrainian cities by the Russian army and civilian deaths.

Conti Ransomware Group Penetrated

Recently, Ukrainian research group leaked 60,694 messages belonging to the Conti ransomware operation after the announcement of the group of its support to Russia. they were able to access the database XMPP chat server of the Conti group. 

The researchers who leaked Conti's data say there is more to come, including the source for their ransomware and their  administrative console. The attack will have a significant impact on the operation of the gang, considering especially as many Conti’s criminal affiliates are Ukrainian groups. 

Distrupted Communications

Internet access is intermittent, as bombs and missiles are damaging telecoms networks and equipment. The city of Kharkiv saw significant disruption, with connectivity to Ukraine's main internet provider, GigaTrans, dropping below 20% of normal levels,  according to NetBlocks.

There has been continued hacking against Ukraine, with denial-of-service attacks hitting government websites and the emergence of what looks like ransomware without the ability to recover data. This "wiper" malware - "intended to be destructive and designed to render targeted devices inoperable" - had been found in dozens of Ukrainian systems across the government, non-profit and information technology sectors, according to Microsoft.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has  responded to calls for his satellite broadband service, Starlink, to be made available in Ukraine. On Monday, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's Minister of Digital Transformation, confirmed the country had received crucial terminals required for the system to work. 

  • In the UK, mobile operators, including O2, Vodafone, Three and EE, have made mobile calls to Ukraine free, with no additional roaming charges for those in the country.
  • Anonymous, the hacking group, has declared cyber-war on the Russian government and it has reportedly hacked state TV channels to show pro-Ukraine content.
  • The Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik has been tweeting a picture of herself with an AK47. The photo is taken not in a base or even in an office, but clearly in the living room of her home.

Impact On Social Media

At the request of the Ukrainian government, both Facebook and Google have restricted access to some state media accounts in Ukraine and banned downloads of the Russia Today TV new channel mobile app. Facebook has taken down a network run by people in Russia and Ukraine for "inauthentic behaviour", posing as independent news entities and creating fake personas across its channels.

NetBlocks has reported thst access to Twitter had been  restricted across every major Russian telecom provider.

Russia's government has imposed partial blockades on Facebook and Twitte ansd Roskomnadzor has accused Facebook of "violating the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens", after Facebook's parent compnay, Meta,  refused to stop fact-checking and labelling content from state-owned news organisations.

Events In Russia

The roots of today’s war extend over 20 years to the beginning of the Putin’s regime and President Putin has not concealed his contempt for Ukrainian independence, which he regards as an accident of history and the most painful of the many injustices brought about by the 1991 Soviet collapse. In summer 2021, President Putin shared his conspiratorial vision of Ukrainian history in a rambling essay that dismissed the entire notion of Ukrainian statehood and blaming  the early Soviet authorities for handing over ancestral Russian lands to Ukraine and other Soviet republics.

The Russian government is reported to have compiled  lists of Ukrainian politicians, journalists, and activists who will be subjected to arrest and possible execution if Russia succeeds in occupying Ukraine’s major cities. 

Given the scale and ferocity of popular opposition to the Russian invasion, any pacification campaign in occupied areas of Ukraine would most likely be violently repressive, although commentators say that President Putin is  supported by the majority Russians who have not been exposed to news that contradicts the version of events in  Ukraine supplied by their domestic news outlets. 

Micosoft:   Roskomnadzor:   Atlantic Council:    UnHerd:     Kira Rudik / Twitter:     Intelx.io:     BBC:     

Security Affairs:     AlJazeera:    ABC:     Netblocks

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