Ukraine has called for a volunteer "IT army" to fight on the digital frontline against the Russian invasion, and it appears that hundreds of thousands of people have already answered the call.
In the opening days of the conflict, Mykhailo Fedorov – the 31-year-old Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine – posted a message in English on Twitter asking for hackers and programmers to sign up for an “IT army” to help carry out cyberattacks against Russia.
"We are creating an IT army. We need digital talents. All operational tasks will be given here: https://t.me/itarmyofurraine. There will be tasks for everyone. We continue to fight on the cyber front. The first task is on the channel for cyber specialists,” Fedorov tweeted on February 26.
Just weeks later, Wall Street Journal reports that approximately 400,000 volunteers from both inside and outside of Ukraine have joined Ukraine's volunteer cyber army, although other estimates say some 300,000 have joined.
Whatever the exact figure, it appears that Russia held higher ground in the early days of the cyberwar. Research by cybersecurity firm Central Point found that cyberattacks against Ukraine’s government and military sector increased by a whopping 196 percent in the first three days of combat. Cyber attacks on Ukraine have since dropped by 50 percent, but still appear to be higher than normal.
As per Central Point research, cyberattacks against private Russian organizations increased by 4 percent while attacks against Ukrainian organizations were up just 0.20 percent. Simultaneously, attacks appear to have fallen against organizations in most other parts of the world.
Most attacks on behalf of both Ukraine and Russia appear to employ two well-known methods. Firstly, hackers are attempting to access sensitive or private information with the aim of leaking the data to disrupt normal operations. Secondly, many are conducting DDoS attacks, involving overwhelming and disrupting a service or network by flooding it with traffic from multiple sources.
There have been a number of highly publicized cyberattacks against Russia so far, although it’s difficult to know who's behind the offensive and whether they are affiliated with this so-called “IT Army.” One cyberattack, reportedly carried out by non-state-affiliated hacking collective Anonymous, involved broadcasting footage of the war on Russia’s state TV and the country's equivalent of Netflix.
The bombs and bullets remain as ugly as ever, but the prolific use of cyberattacks, cryptocurrency, social media, and disinformation campaigns means that this war is like few others seen before it.
Much of Ukraine’s tech-savvy approach to the conflict has been put down to the administration of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, especially the head of digital Fedorov who put out the call for the "IT army."
In one instance, Fedorov publically reached out to Elon Musk on Twitter, asking his Starlink satellite company to provide internet coverage to Ukraine. Musk promptly obliged. Two days later, Fedorov tweeted a photo of a truckload of on-the-ground Starlink equipment, noting: “Starlink — here. Thanks, @elonmusk.”