Field military campaign, online perception warfare

On Saturday, February 26, as Russian troops shelled Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted in cryptocurrency. described this call for crypto crowdfunding as “unprecedented”, pointing out that Ukraine’s online call for direct donations was the first of its kind. In about 24 hours, the Ukrainian government raised almost $8 million in cryptocurrencies through 11,500 donations.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the biggest military attack on a European state since World War II. While Ukrainian forces and civilians put up determined resistance to Russian troops on the ground, a battle is also underway on another front: the internet.

Disturbances and outages

Since Russia launched what President Vladimir Putin described as “a special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, there have been fears of attacks on Ukraine’s telecommunications system. These fears were compounded by internet outages across the country from February 24, as reported by internet monitoring group and .

While the situation improved after entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX activated its satellite broadband service in Ukraine after Fedorov reported continued disruptions at other internet service providers in Ukraine.

Musk said “” in a tweet to Fedorov.

Attacking a cyberpower

While the internet plays an extremely important role in spreading information from and within Ukraine, it is also used by hackers to attack digital assets. Fedorov that his government is developing a “computer army” to fight Russia on the cyber front and reported that many “cybervolunteers” have joined the effort to intensify Ukraine’s online efforts against Russia.

An international hacker group has tweeted a video with a warning to Putin and claims to have taken down several as part of its efforts to support the Ukrainian resistance.

Russia has a reputation as one of the most aggressive and capable cyberpowers in the world. In the recent past, the country’s foreign intelligence service for a hack that compromised nine federal agencies and hundreds of private sector companies in the United States of America.

Launching a cyberattack is a relatively inexpensive effort with little consequence for the attacker. In contrast, defending against cyberattacks requires a coordinated effort from various agencies and failures can lead to the crippling of critical infrastructure such as government websites, banking services, power grid supply and personnel coordination. and essential and military equipment.

Hours before the invasion of Ukraine, malware “wiper” (which wipes data on computers on a network) that appeared to target Ukrainian government departments and financial institutions was detected by Microsoft. Microsoft was able to update its virus detection systems to block the code and has since been in “constant and close coordination” with the Ukrainian government.

Researchers said the extent of Russian cyberattacks on Ukraine was “quieter” than expected. “A lot of people are quite surprised that there is no meaningful integration of cyberattacks into the overall campaign that Russia is undertaking in Ukraine. It’s mostly business as normal as the Russian targeting levels,” Shane Huntley, director of Google’s Threat Analytics Group, told Reuters. New York Times.

The war of perceptions

Ukraine was quick to call on big tech companies like Google, Apple and Meta to oppose Russia when the military operation began. While Apple chief executive Tim Cook was evasive, saying he wouldn’t let Russian state media sell ads using his tools and YouTube said he would limit recommendations to Russian channels in addition to limiting their monetization.

On Feb. 26, Meta’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said Russia had asked the company to stop fact-checking and labeling posts from four Russian state-owned media organizations. . When Meta refused the request, Russia chose to restrict access to its products. Clegg said Meta’s products were used by ordinary Russians to express themselves and organize protests. “We want them to continue to raise their voices, share what’s happening and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger,” Clegg said.

Similarly, Twitter has also been restricted for some Russians and the social media company said it was working to keep its service “”.

Since the Arab Spring movement in the early 2010s, the power of social media has been felt around the world, both in organizing grassroots protests and in their use by governments to curb and control protests.

In the current situation, Ukraine seems to have outstripped Russia in the war of perceptions.

On the day the war started, Ukraine’s official Twitter account then wrote: “This is not a meme, but our and your reality now.” Over the past few days, social media has been used to organize and share plans for , journalists have used these platforms to deliver , and civilians have used social media for .

Social media has played a huge role in Ukraine’s resistance, with everyone using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to share updates. Lately, Twitter trends have been dominated by the Russian-Ukrainian war and it came to a head when Zelensky denied rumors that he had ordered the Ukrainian military to surrender to Russia. (A version with subtitles is available.)

“A large-scale psychological operation”

While Russia’s official Twitter account tweeted nothing about the ongoing campaign in Ukraine, Anton Melnyk of Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation said on February 28 that Twitter and Meta had blocked hundreds of Russian pages, media who shared propaganda.

Regardless of what information is accessible to Ukrainians and Russians, events in the conflict zones affect audiences around the world, and even analyzes of Russian military operations are surfacing on social media. There’s an immediacy of updates that we’ve never seen before and the urgency to jump on the bandwagon of trending topics has meant more people are joining these conversations online. This has meant growing support for Ukraine online, but also vocal support for Russia from unexpected corners, such as India.

On Tuesday, even as reports emerged of a huge Russian convoy reaching the outskirts of the capital Kiev, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov warned that Russia would launch “”.

Obviously, the results of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia will be as important and decisive as the territorial victories won by the military.

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