In February, the Russian invasion was accompanied by a slew of cyber attacks targeting the country’s infrastructure and digital assets. However, this time, the country’s IT sector stood firm. Here’s how IT companies in Ukraine are meeting the challenge and winning the cyberwar.
In the week leading up to the Russian armed invasion, Ukraine’s cyber infrastructure faced a barrage of cyber attacks, including DDoS attacks targeting several government websites. Mykhailo Fedorov, the minister for digital transformation, later confirmed that sustained DDoS attacks in that week temporarily took down the websites of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers, the foreign affairs ministry, infrastructure, education, and even the country’s parliament.
Around the same time, cybersecurity company ESET discovered that Ukraine’s digital infrastructure was targeted using a malware called HermeticaWiperOpens a new window which could wipe data off affected systems. Vikram Thakur, ESET’s technical director, said the malware targeted a financial institution in Ukraine and Ukrainian government contractors in Latvia and Lithuania. HermeticaWiper was similar to the WhisperGate wiper malware that hit Ukrainian organizations earlier in February by masquerading as ransomware.
Even though researchers at ESET were not able to attribute these attacks to a known threat actor, the firm opined that the attacks had been planned for several months. â€œOn February 23, a destructive campaign using HermeticWiper (along with HermeticWizard and HermeticRansom) targeted multiple Ukrainian organizations. This cyberattack preceded the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by a few hours,â€ it said.
How the Ukrainian IT Sector Is Fighting Back
The initial barrage of cyberattacks was soon met by a coordinated response from the Ukrainian government, its IT industry, and various hacker groups who quickly announced their support. On February 27, Mykhailo Fedorov announced the formation of an â€œIT armyâ€ which would effectively respond to Russian cyber aggression and target Russian digital infrastructure in tit-for-tat attacks.Â
â€œWe are creating an IT army. We need digital talents. All operational tasks will be given here: . There will be tasks for everyone. We continue to fight on the cyber front. The first task is on the channel for cyber specialists.,â€ Fedorov said on TwitterOpens a new window . By the following day, the IT army’s Telegram channel had amassed over 235,000 subscribers, most of them being developers, cyber specialists, designers, copywriters, marketing specialists, and PR specialists.
The IT army soon got down to work, diligently broadcastingOpens a new window every achievement on its Twitter and Telegram channels while calling out for more skilled volunteers to join its ranks. â€œWe call all hackers and digital activists to be united as one. If this war is not won with weapons, it will be won with cyberweapons. Democracy and freedom will destroy fascism and imperialism,â€ it said. Within a week of its formation, cyber volunteers hacked into several Russian state TV channels, the website of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, the website of the Chechen Republic, and those of the Kremlin, State Duma and the Ministry of Defense.
On February 27, the IT army took down the Russian military’s radio station UVB-76, also known as â€œthe buzzer.â€ The following day, it took down the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, the networks of three major banks in Belarus, and websites of Russian media organizations TASS, Izvestia, Fontaka, RBC, and Kommersant.
Aside from targeting Russian digital infrastructure, the IT army also released alerts to citizens to help them move to safe locations and avoid conflict zones. For instance, it regularly intercepts Russian military communications and leaks the radio frequencies used by Russian forces to communicate inside Ukraine. However, all this comes at a considerable cost.
Ensuring Resilience and Productivity Under the Shadow of War
According to data from Ukrainian IT services company Uptech, the $5 billion-strong Ukrainian IT industry is composed of more than 4,000 IT companies and 212,000 specialists who offer various IT services to organizations worldwide, including over 100 companies listed in Fortune 500. Conflicts raging in IT hubs like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, and Odesa are forcing people to flee to safer cities in the west, thereby affecting the productivity or IT companies located there. This has, however, not affected the resilience of these professionals.
â€œI’m glad to inform you that as of today, most of the team members have evacuated dangerous areas and are safe. We stay committed to our country and our values, but we also have obligations to our clients. Today, those of us who are safe and not actively helping the army will continue working to support our clients and not cause major delays in work. We are strong, and we’ll win,â€ saidOpens a new window Dima Kovalenko, the CEO of Uptech.
Speaking to Toolbox, Kovalenko said its developers joined the national IT army and carried out DDoS attacks on Russian websites since the first days of the war. To continue operating at scale, Uptech also adopted a business continuity plan that included three key measures:
- Diversification of income streams;Â
- Upfront salary payments;Â
- Financial and logistical support for those Uptech members who will have to move.
â€œWhen the Russian invasion happened, the first thing we did was make sure the team moved to safe places. 90% of people are in the Western regions of Ukraine or Europe, where they are safe and have all the conditions to keep working (electricity, wi-fi connection, etc.). Now we are still helping people, who want to move, to find accommodation in safe regions: apartments or hotels,â€ he said. The company has described in a blog postOpens a new window how it is keeping employees safe and secure and the steps concerned people can take to help Ukraine.
Global IT Companies Jump Into the Fray
Tech To The Rescue (TTTR), a non-profit organization operating out of Poland, launched the #TechForUkraine campaign in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine to support the needs and welfare of Ukrainian citizens affected by the conflict. â€œRefugees are in urgent need of shelter, medical assistance, transportation through safe corridors, language assistance, and legal and administrative aid. This is only the first of many steps on the road to rebalancing their lives, which includes finding permanent housing, employment, language skills training, social relationships, and continued education for their children,â€ the non-profit saidOpens a new window .
The campaign aims to offer pro-bono help to dozens of NGOs operating in Ukraine in the form of about 100 digital projects over the next three months and many more in the year ahead. So far, the campaign has gained participation from more than 450 IT companies from 40 countries, including the likes of Amazon Cloud Services, Orange, Salesforce, Allegro, Netguru, Divante, Boldare, Nocodely, Astek, Servsoft, Droids on Roids, Twilio, Nord VPN, 10Clouds, Codility, RTB House, and Packhelp.
â€œTens of thousands of people have immediately joined the unprecedented wave of aid that has come from neighboring countries and around the world, saving countless lives. The overflowing aid needs to be structured, and efforts need to be streamlined and optimized. Technology is key to coordinating all humanitarian efforts. This is where Tech To The Rescue comes in,â€ said Jacek Siadkowski, co-founder and director of Tech To The Rescue.
â€œWe are overwhelmed by the response to the #TechForUkraine campaign and are working around the clock to process all applications. Therefore, we appeal to the international IT community, startups, investors, and angels to support us. To meet the challenge, we need to increase our team and hire new people. This will help us help refugees on a large scale and assist twice as many organizations as we can now.â€
In solidarity with the plight of Ukrainians, technology companies worldwide are not only shunning Russia but are also actively engaging in humanitarian efforts. For instance, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised to match employee donations two-to-one to support aid organizations operating in Europe. Google Cloud also provides free, unlimited protection against DDoS attacks to more than 150 news and humanitarian organizations in Ukraine and offers free services to organizations engaged in medical supplies, food relief, and refugee support and aid in Ukraine.
In addition, Google is offering monetary aid for relief efforts in Ukraine. â€œGoogle.org and Google employees are contributing $15 million in donations and in-kind support to aid relief efforts in Ukraine, including $5 million so far from our employee matching campaign and $5 million in direct grants,â€ the company said.Â
Epic Games said it will donate the proceeds of the latest season of Fortnite between March 20 (when the new season launches) until April 3 to support humanitarian activities in Ukraine. The gaming giant has already raisedOpens a new window $36 million in the first 24 hours post-launch. Sony Group has also announced a $2 million donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children to support Ukrainian refugees. Amazon has launched a humanitarian aid hub in Slovakia and joined the Tent Partnership for Refugees to provide shelter to more than 3 million people.
In Conclusion: Miles to go..
Considering the probability of war intensifying in the coming days or weeks, supporting rescue and rehabilitation efforts and actively calling for a cessation of hostilities is a must for technology companies worldwide. A continuation of the conflict could profoundly disrupt the global supply chains of multiple sectors, such as technology, healthcare, defense, aerospace, agriculture, and precious metals. Though many of the world’s largest tech corporations have quickly jumped into the fray, it remains if their efforts will mitigate the long-term impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.Â Â
Do you think the technology sector can play a more significant role in mitigating the conflict’s long-term impact? Comment below or let us know on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window . We would love to hear from you!