As the invasion of Ukraine continues in Russia, there have been frequent reports of companies removing their services to Russian users and consumers to show their resistance to Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine. But another major form of anti-Russia, Pro-Ukraine action has been taking place in the digital world. This article looks at some of the actions that the decentralised hacking activist (‘hacktivist’) group – known simply as ‘Anonymous’ – has made against Russia.
Anonymous’s first cyber attack against Russia took place on Thursday, the 24th of February and saw the group hack into the website of the Center for the Protection of Monuments. The webpages were defaced to reflect the hacktivist group’s thoughts on Russia opting against peace.
Following the defacing of this website, readers may find that the above link is accessible (it cannot be visited at the time of writing); however, Anonymous saved web archive versions of the altered pages here, here, and here.
Just one day after the above event, Anonymous then managed to apply a short-lived DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack to Russia Today’s state-controlled website, rt.com, and declared on Twitter that it is in a cyberwar with the Russian government.
The attacks escalated by Saturday, the 26th of February, when according to the hacktivist group itself, Anonymous had hacked into a Russian Linux terminal in Nogir, North Ossetia and interfered with the dates on a gas control system so that it could have exploded, if not for human intervention. As shown in its Twitter photo below, the explosion reportedly didn’t succeed because of a “fast-acting human controller”.
On top of the above, Anonymous has also made claims that it is responsible for Russian government website outages. While these outages have been reported widely across the news, the fact that they were due to cyber attacks appears to be unconfirmed as the Kremlin denies the claims that Anonymous were behind the websites going down.
Anonymous’s message that it has hacked a Russian Linux terminal and a gas control system in Nogir, North Ossetia
As reflected in the public’s Twitter and TikTok posts, Russian TV channels have also appeared to be hacked as there have been reports of Russian TV news coverage that has shown footage of the war in Ukraine, as well as other pro-Ukraine messages such as the displaying of blue and yellow flags and the playing of Ukrainian music.
In the more recent days following Anonymous’s initial attack on the 24th of February 2022, the hacktivist group has recently – in an apparent attempt to combat media censorship – leaked data from Russia’s government website called Roskomnadzor. (Its website explains that it is ‘The federal service for supervision of communications, information technology, and mass media’).
Moreover, the 15th of March saw Anonymous post a claim on Twitter that it has hacked into the website of the Russian state-owned atomic energy company Rosatom (whose website is inaccessible at the time of writing). The cyber attack followed a major event on the 4th of March when Russian forces shellied and seized Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant under the management of Rosatom. This occurred after Ukraine had informed the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on the 12th of March that such an attack was forthcoming. The Russian Federation later denied this.
According to Taiwan News, which Anonymous’s 15th of March Tweet provides a link to, the group of hackers successfully accessed Rosatom’s security data and now plans to release, to quote Anonymous, “a few gigabytes” of this data. The hacktivist group presumably intends to achieve such a large release of the infiltrated data in stages: at the time of writing, the leaked data (which involves database tables and user credentials) appears to amount to megabytes only. Nevertheless, it is an unmistakable sign of just how data-driven, digital – and public – responses to international crises are in this modern age.
In a world of connected devices, digital security concerns, and constant news and social media coverage, it is no wonder why so much of modern warfare – is now cyber warfare.