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Ukraine calls for volunteer hackers to protect its critical infrastructure and spy on Russian forces

Graham CLULEY

February 25, 2022

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Ukraine calls for volunteer hackers to protect its critical infrastructure and spy on Russian forces

The government of Ukraine is calling on the hacking community to volunteer its expertise and capabilities, following the invasion of the country by Russian forces.

Reuters reports that Yegor Aushev, the CEO of Kyiv-based Cyber Unit Technologies which has worked with Ukraine's government on the defence of critical infrastructure, claims to have been asked to post a digital call-to-arms after being asked by "a senior Defence Ministry official."

The message, which was posted on hacking forums by Aushev on Thursday, begins "Ukrainian cybercommunity! It’s time to get involved in the cyber defense of our country," and calls for cybersecurity experts and hackers to apply as a volunteer via a Google Docs link.  The page volunteers are directed to asks applicants to list their specialities, such as if they have developed malware, and professional references.

According to Aushev, volunteers will be divided into two groups - tasked with offensive and defensive cyber operations.

Defence volunteers are likely to be given roles in protecting Ukraine's critical infrastructure such as telecommunications, electricity, gas, and water systems, while those tasked with offensive operations may be tasked with roles conducting digital espionage and causing disruption to the invading Russian forces.

Regardless of which side of the conflict you stand, there are clearly challenges with openly recruiting hackers online to work for you - whether it be for your country's defence or to attack its enemies.

It isn't hard to imagine that some of those who volunteer may not be doing so with the intention of helping Ukraine in its struggle.  It is easy to imagine that Russian-backed hackers might also apply, posing as patriotic Ukrainians, with the intention of gathering intelligence or even access to systems which Ukraine seeks to better defend.

Furthermore, anyone volunteering online to join a hacking force should be very careful to ensure that they are sharing their information with a trusted authority, and not mistakenly giving their details to the very forces they are hoping to fight against.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, the country appears to be late to the game in developing a dedicated military "cyber force" of its own.  As recently as December, President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that although his government had cybersecurity specialists, "separate cyber forces never existed."

US military intelligence revealed last year that it was believed that Russian government hackers had already "likely broadly penetrated Ukrainian military, energy and other critical computer networks to collect intelligence and position themselves potentially to disrupt those systems should Russia launch a military assault on Ukraine."

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