Western Officials Warn Hackers Against Working in Ukraine’s Anti-Russia IT Army

As Ukraine’s IT Army began to gain popularity, Western officials said that they would strongly discourage any kind of criminal activity against Russia.

Western officials are warning amateur hackers from joining Ukraine’s “IT army”—a volunteer unit designed to fight back online—over fears of activists breaking the law or launching attacks that spiral out of hand. They also reportedly said that they would strongly discourage any kind of criminal activity against Russia.

Hackers forming the IT Army of Ukraine on the Telegram messaging app have bolstered Ukraine’s cyber-response to the Russian incursion. More than 300,000 people have joined the organisation, including members from all across the world. But according to Western officials, joining the group and participating in hacking action against Russia is highly “discouraged”.

The cyber-offensive in Ukraine has had particular success with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which websites are flooded with traffic and rendered unavailable. Russian government websites, including the Kremlin and the Duma, as well as Russia Today, the state-owned news agency, have been targeted in this fashion. DDoS assaults have also been attributed to Anonymous, a hacking collective.

As reported, experts believe that joining Ukrainian cyber-attacks from the United States or the United Kingdom could violate laws in those countries, such as America’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Computer Misuse Act in Britain.

For example, one expert told The Guardian that not only could it be unlawful, but it also risks playing into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands by allowing him to brag about cyberattacks from Western countries. So far, the United States, in particular, blamed Russia, as well as China for sponsoring such activities several times.

It was also reported that the Ukrainian government has fared well against cyber-attacks so far since the conflict began. While Ukraine has been targeted by DDoS attacks, many “wiper” operations in which computers are destroyed, have had a limited impact so far.

The Western officials also noted that since the invasion began last month, hostile Russian cyber-activity has not increased in the United Kingdom and other western friends of Ukraine.

However, the most important cyber-incident involving a western victim was related to American telecoms business Viasat. Unidentified hackers took down tens of thousands of modems connected to Viasat Inc’s KA-SAT satellite, which provides internet to some clients in Europe, including Ukraine.

Ukraine IT Army

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister and minister of digital transformation, announced the formation of a volunteer cyber army in February.

He said in a Telegram post: “We have a lot of talented Ukrainians in the digital sphere: developers, cyber specialists, designers, copywriters, marketers… We continue to fight on the cyber front.”

Fedorov stated that the IT Army’s missions are being allocated to volunteers via a Telegram channel.

However, since then, the scope of the IT Army channel has grown. It asked volunteers to target websites registered in Belarus, one of Russia’s important allies, on February 27 and subscribers are also encouraged to report YouTube channels.

The IT Army’s influence has been difficult to assess thus far. Thousands of people have joined the Telegram channel, but no one knows who they are or how they are involved in the response. The channel has provided screenshots of allegedly taken-down Russian websites, although it’s unclear how successful these attempts were.

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