Headline, March 10 2022/ DAWN : ''' '' *VIRTUAL BATTLEFIELD VIRULENT '' '''

DAWN : ''' '' *VIRTUAL


THE VOLUNTEERS SWARMED A VIRTUAL BATTLEFIELD. And the hackers went on to spread confusion : ''It is crazy; it is bonkers.'' And it may well be terribly, terribly dangerous.

The war in Ukraine has provoked an onslaught of cyberattacks by apparent volunteers unlike any that security researchers have seen in previous conflicts.

They are creating widespread disruption, confusion and chaos that researchers fear could provoke more serious attacks by nation-state hackers, escalate the war on the ground or harm civilians.

UKRAINE HAS BEEN MORE DELIBERATE about recruiting a volunteer hacking force. In  Telegram channels, participants cheer their collaboration with the government in going after targets such as Sherbank, the Russian owned bank.

From Russia, where links between the government and hacking groups have long raised alarms among Western officials, there has not been the same kind of overt call to action.

''We are creating an I.T. army,'' Ukraine's minister of digital transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, tweeted on Saturday, directing cybersecurity enthusiasts to a Telegram channel that contained instructions for knocking Russian websites offline.

''There will be tasks for everyone.'' By Friday, the Telegram channel had more than 285,000 subscribers.

Inside the main English-language Telegram page for the I.T. Army of Ukraine is a 14-page introductory document providing details how people can participate, including what software to download to mask their whereabouts and identities.

Every day, new targets are listed, including websites, telecommunications firms, banks and A.T.M. processors.

Yegor Aushev, the co-founder of the Ukrainian cybersecurity company Cyber Unit Technologies, said he had been flooded with notes after posting on social media call for programmers to get involved. His company offered a $100,000 reward for those who identify flaws in the code of Russian cyber targets.

Mr. Aushev said more than 1,000 people were involved in his effort, working in close collaboration with the government. People were allowed to join only if somebody vouched for them. Organized into small groups, they were aiming to hit high-impact targets like the infrastructure and logistics systems important to the Russian military.

''It's become an independent machine, a distributed international digital army,'' Mr. Aushev said. ''The biggest hacks against Russia will be soon,'' he added without elaborating. A government spokesman confirmed the work with Mr. Aushev.

Figuring out who is behind a cyberattack is always difficult. Groups falsely take credit or boast of bigger effects than actually occurred. But last week, there was a string of attacks against Russian targets.

The country's largest stock exchange, a state-controlled bank and the Russian Foreign Ministry were taken offline for a time after attacks by Ukraine's volunteer hackers.

Last week, TripAdvisor and Google Maps halted reviews at some locations in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus after pro-Ukraine volunteers attacked the sites to share uncensored information with the Russian public about the war.

On Wednesday, the website of the main Russian intelligence service, F.S.B.was declared a target by the group. A few hours later, a picture was posted to the I.T. Army Telegram channel showing it had been taken down, a claim that could not be independently verified.

''They could not overcome your attacks,'' the group said on Telegram, a message that was reposted by Mr. Fedorov.

The worst fears of the military analysts and cybersecurity experts - that Russia would use devastating cyberattacks to take down critical Ukrainian infrastructure like energy, government services and Internet services have not yet been realized.

But the involvement of nongovernmental groups could escalate quickly and cause unintended consequences.

A malware attack against one target could quickly spill over and become uncontrollable, as it did during a 2017 attack on Ukrainian government and business computer systems. Or a government might mistake an amateur attack for a state-backed one and decide to retaliate.

''In this quickly escalating situation they are taking steps on behalf of the government that can have very serious repercussions on civilians. This is the big risk,'' said Klara Jordan, chief public policy officer at CyberPeace Institute in Geneva.

The growing concern, fears in serving of this publishing, continues. The World Students Society thanks authors Kate Conger and Adam Satariano.

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