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Russia-Ukraine Crisis: How Anonymous Cyber War is Undermining Putin’s Invasion

Soon after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched the “special military operation” on Ukraine, unfolding the Russia-Ukraine Crisis, the popular Twitter account named “Anonymous,” a hacktivist collective declared a cyberwar against Russia.

Since then, the account with over 7.9 million followers with about 500k gained post the Russian invasion– has claimed responsibility for hacking into numerous Russian news, corporate, and government websites, leaking sensitive data from renowned agencies, including Roskomnadzor.

But how much of it is true?

Hacked TV Broadcast

An Anonymous hack on Russian TV networks is one of the most notable cyber-attacks since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began.

A short video clip of the hack shows the hacker interrupting normal programming to show images of bombing in Ukraine and soldiers discussing the horrors of war.

The video started spreading on the 26th of February and was shared on social media through the Anonymous accounts. “JUST IN: #Russian state TV channels have been hacked by #Anonymous to broadcast the truth about what happens in #Ukraine,” one post read.

The video quickly piled up millions of views.

Stunts like this one have all the hallmarks of an Anonymous hack – dramatic, impactful, and easily shared. However, as with many of the group’s other cyber-attacks, this one was also difficult to verify.

However, a smaller group of Anonymous hackers said they were responsible, claiming they took over TV services for 12 minutes.

Russia’s Hacked Databases

Over the past few weeks of the war, the hacker group has claimed responsibility for disabling corporate and news websites.

According to Jeremiah Fowler, a co-founder of the cybersecurity company Security Discovery, of the analyzed 100 Russian databases, 92 had been compromised.

The database belonged to Russian intergovernmental websites internet providers, including CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). A number of confidential CIS folders were deleted while many were renamed to “putin_stop_this_war.”

Furthermore, high-authority leaders’ administrative credentials and email addresses were exposed, especially personalities like 2020’s malicious “MeowBot” attacks.

Another database with over 270,000 email addresses and names was also hacked. Furthermore, internal passwords and secret encrypted keys were also compensated.

Who is Anonymous?

Though the hacking movement of Anonymous is thought to have embarked in the early 2000s, they first made the headline in 2008 after the groups launched a distributed denial-of-service attack on America’s Church of Scientology.

Over the years, the group has gained supporters. However, the hackers have been subjected to a number of legal consequences for their actions.

In essence, Anonymous is an ambiguous group of hackers who want to exploit organizations on brands to promote their cause.

Members of the collective appear to be motivated to take action by an underlying desire to promote free expression, combat censorship, and resist government control.

Nevertheless, in 2012, when Anonymous was at its zenith, an estimated tens of thousands of activists, many of whom were hackers, were considered part of the network.

Russia-Ukraine Crisis: The Two-Sided War

The Russian Federation is believed to be waging its own cyberwar against Ukraine. According to Reuters, destructive “data wiping” software struck Ukrainian financial institutions and government agencies last week. However, the news agency reports that Russia denies any involvement.

Ukraine’s government websites were shut down last week by denial-of-service attacks, reported Reuters. According to its report, hackers had targeted Ukraine since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.

However, in a post last week, “Anonymous” made clear that the group does not see itself at war with the Russian people.

In the past, also, Anonymous has attacked other high-profile entities, such as the U.S. and Chinese governments, the Islamic State group, while expressing support for uprisings such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.

The A Cyber’ Robin Hood’ Russia-Ukarine Crisis

According to Paul de Souza, the founder of the non-profit Cyber Security Forum Initiative, hacktivists who engage in offensive cyber warfare activity without government authorization engage in criminal acts.

While this is the case, many social media fans and supporters are cheering Anonymous’ efforts on Russia-Ukraine crisis, as many of their posts receive thousands of likes and supportive messages.

“They’re almost like a cyber Robin Hood when it comes to causes that people really care about, that no one else can really do anything about,” said Fowler.

Hacktivist groups often share similar values, said Marianne Bailey, a security executive at Guidehouse and a former official at the National Security Agency. As a result, they can influence governmental and corporate policy through cyber activism at a low cost, she said.

“It is protesting in the 21st century.” 

Marianne Bailey, Guidehouse