In recent days, numerous cyberattacks against Russian websites and media networks have been reported. Belarus and Chechnya (a nominally self-governing republic within Russia), whose leaders are both siding with the Russian government in the war, have also faced a barrage of digital attacks.
It’s very hard to confirm who is responsible for the attacks, and to what extent they’ve been successful. That’s because hackers are limited in how much evidence they can present without giving away their identities and locations, and because Russian authorities are careful to control the flow of information coming out of their country.
The Kremlin’s stranglehold on state media is especially important to them right now as they try to minimize and shape the Russian public’s awareness of the war in Ukraine.
So far, the hacking collective Anonymous has claimed responsibility for more than 300 incidents. Initial reports suggest that government websites, state media, and even essential infrastructure may have been targeted.
Are the cyberattacks related to Ukraine?
According to online accounts associated with the Anonymous hacking collective, these cyberattacks are a direct response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Russian armed forces have swept across the Ukrainian border, after a long period of rising tensions between the two countries.
Western leaders have condemned Russia’s actions as unprovoked and potentially illegal, a stance that reflects public sentiment across the Western world.
In response to these events, online accounts linked to the hacking group Anonymous have declared a cyber war against Russia and its allies.
What is Anonymous?
Anonymous is not an official organization, but rather a loose collective of hackers and online activists. As such, it’s hard to verify the authenticity of any account claiming to speak on their behalf.
However, they are believed to be responsible for massive cyber campaigns against a wide range of targets, from ISIS to the CIA. It’s not unlikely that many Anonymous members are now targeting Russia. In fact, after Russian-backed TV network RT came under attack, Russian authorities openly linked the incident to Anonymous.
Anonymous and other hacktivists use a range of tactics in their attacks. They often launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, making websites and services inaccessible to other users. Alternatively, if they can gain administrative access to a website, they can deface it, adding new text to the page to promote their views and agendas.
Will we see more cyberattacks in the future?
Almost definitely. Controlling the narrative and the news in Russia has always been an essential part of the Kremlin’s strategy, and is especially important in the context of the war. Cyberattacks against state TV and other news sources could be particularly effective at disrupting the Russian propaganda machine, and raising awareness among Russian citizens of their government’s actions.
It’s likely we’ll see more of these attacks in the near future. Cyberattacks offer an opportunity for individuals to cause large scale disruption for their targets, at very limited risk to themselves. Right now, independent hackers outside of Russia are unlikely to face any ramifications for hacking Russian networks.
As long as the current situation in Ukraine continues to intensify, Anonymous and other hacktivists will probably maintain their assault on Russian authorities.
Hacking as an act of warfare
The Russian government is widely believed to have engaged in cyber warfare operations for many years, with Ukraine regularly coming under attack in recent months.
Cyberattacks can have a much greater impact now, because so much infrastructure is run with digital systems. The increasing integration of essential processes — energy supply, manufacturing, healthcare — shows no sign of slowing down, so cyber warfare will become an increasingly effective part of modern conflicts.
The mobilization of independent, non-government-affiliated hackers is a striking development, however, and we could see a lot more of this in the future.