How Ukraine war is being waged on cyber sphere

As hi-tech Russian missiles hit Ukraine and as the later uses all innovative means to defend itself, it is emerging that technology has become a major weapon being deployed by the combatants and their respective allies.

Here is how the war is unfolding on the virtual realm:

Splinternet: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been blamed for creating new cracks in the world-spanning foundation of the internet. Moscow has made it harder for citizens to reach Facebook and Twitter.  Facebook, YouTube and TikTok access to Russian state-owned media has been restricted in the European Union following a request of governments in the 27-country bloc.

Russia has also invoked the power of its Sovereign Internet Law, which President Vladimir Putin signed in 2019. The law seeks to protect Russian internet from any move by the West to cut it off.  However, it centralises state network control so that the government can take actions such as censoring sites or hobbling social networks.

Facebook said it had refused to stop fact-checking and labelling content from state-owned news organisations.  Internet connectivity watchers at NetBlocks say there is a total or near-total restriction on Twitter in Russia. NetBlocks said Facebook and Instagram weren’t “observably restricted per our metrics, certainly not to the extent Twitter is at present”.

Many videos and images of the Ukraine invasion have been going viral on social media.

NetBlocks Director Alp Toker told the BBC: “Russia’s restriction of Twitter will significantly limit the free flow of information at a time of crisis when the public most need to stay informed

Crypto war: The Ukranian government raised over $12 million in bitcoin and ether in less than a week following Russian invastion. NGOs and local initiatives have raised $6 million. Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest adopters of cryptocurrency, coming behind only Vietnam, India and Pakistan. Elliptic, another crypto data firm, says that donations to groups countering Russian aggression skyrocketed in the second half of last year, with over $550,000 worth of cryptocurrencies raised in 2021 compared to $6,000 in 2020. Since Russia began military operations in Ukraine last week, $18.9 million is said to have been raised.

The boss of one of the world’s biggest crypto-currency exchanges has ruled out restricting ordinary Russians from using the service. Binance founder and chief executive Changpeng Zhao, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Many normal Russians do not agree with war.”

Major crypto-currency exchanges have been asked by Ukraine to block Russian users. One financial expert warned the war could become a “crypto conflict”. The value of Bitcoin has risen 13percent since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the Reuters news agency. There has been speculation Russian oligarchs may pour their money into crypto-currencies to avoid sanctions and other restrictions.

Bitcoins: Cryptocurrency analysts say at least $13.7m (£10.2m) has so far been donated to the Ukrainian war effort through anonymous Bitcoin donations. Researchers at Elliptic, a blockchain analysis company, say the Ukrainian government, NGOs and volunteer groups have raised the money by advertising their Bitcoin wallet addresses online.More than 4,000 donations have been made so far, with one unknown donor gifting Bitcoin worth $3m to an NGO. The median donation is $95, says BBC.

On Saturday afternoon, the official Twitter account of the Ukraine government posted a message: “Stand with the people of Ukraine. Now accepting cryptocurrency donations. Bitcoin, Ethereum and USDT.” It posted addresses for two cryptocurrency wallets which collected $5.4m in Bitcoin, Ether and other coins within eight hours.

Brand action: Apple has joined other major firms that have stopped sale of all products in Russia. The tech giant expressed its deep concern about the Russian invasion and stands with those “suffering as a result of the violence”. Apple said in a statement that the firm had disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine as a “safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens”. Apple Pay and other services such as Apple Maps have also been limited. An automated message said Nike was stopping online orders because it could not guarantee delivery of goods to customers in Russia. The website, however, directed customers to their nearest Nike stores. Several top brands have pulled the plug on Russia in bid to embolden sanctions.

Netflix has announced that it has suspended all future projects and acquisitions from Russia. The streaming giant said it was assessing the impact of the war. It said filming for the production of Russian language series Zato will be halted.

Google has disabled live traffic data from being displayed on its Maps app in Ukraine. The app displays this information by collecting anonymous data from Android smartphones. It shows traffic on roads and what is happening on various places. The app has however been halted in a move Google says is aimed at protecting users.

Russian hackers:  Russia’s techies have been accused of hacking to spread fear and confusion online as troops massed on Ukraine’s borders. The band of attackers are said to work in small groups without direct orders from the Russian state and are intent on adding the chaos in cyber-space. Some hackers have admitted that they are working to attack Ukraine servers. One of them told BBC they  have carried out DDoS attacks, emailed 20 bomb threats to schools, hacked into the live dashboard feeds of an unidentified Ukrainian “rapid response team” and found a way to set up official emails using a Ukrainian government email service. The hackers reportedly said they will intensify their actions going forward.

Ukrainian techies: Ukrainians working at Western tech companies are banding together to help their besieged homeland, aiming to knock down disinformation websites, encourage Russians to turn against their government and speed delivery of medical supplies. They are seeking, through email campaigns and online petitions, to persuade firms such as internet security company Cloudflare Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Amazon.com Inc to do more to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many companies have cut Russian ties but activists are demanding more. They are appealing to cybersecurity companies in particular, to severe links with Russian clients, especially purveyors of disinformation. If that happens, the publishers would be more vulnerable to online attacks.

Elon Musk’s Starlink: A lorry full of Starlink dishes has arrived in Ukraine to help the country in accessing internet amid attacks by Russian hackers. Businesses are banking on dishes for backup. The dishes work by automatically connecting to the nearest Starlink satellite, of which there are more than 2,000 in the skies. The satellite communicates with the nearest ground station, or gateway, which supplies the internet.

These gateways are found around the globe, but “they can’t be too far away from the place getting an internet connection”. One of the gateways is in Poland, which Ukraine’s neighbour. The internet connection travels from the gateway to the satellite, and then to the terminal. Users simply plug their router into their terminal and the tech takes care of the rest.

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