As previously reported by Liberty Nation, the fight between Russia and Ukraine is as much a cyber war as a physical one. From the start, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been manipulating internet infrastructure, attempting to control the narrative in Ukraine, Russia, and abroad. Now, the invading country is re-routing Ukrainian service providers through Russian sources in an attempt to surveil Ukrainians while censoring and limiting their internet access and communications.
Ukraine has put up a valiant fight against Russian cyber efforts, and its defense tactics are better than anyone else’s would be. Chief research officer at WithSecure, a Finnish security software company, Mikko Hyppönen, explains that Ukraine was in this cyber war long before February: “Ukraine is the best country in Europe to defend their networks against Russian nation-state attacks-better than we are, better than any of the Nordics, better than Germany, better than France. Why? Because they’ve been doing it for eight years.”
As it blows up telecommunications infrastructure, Russia is simultaneously trying now to control phone networks and the internet in occupied Ukraine. How are they doing that? By replacing Ukrainian mobile services. Those that haven’t fled the country experience a lapse where their service is down entirely. The next thing they know, their service is back and operating normally. Or so it seems.
Miranda Media and +7 Telecom are just two services Ukrainian traffic is being forced to pass through. Victor Zhora, the deputy head of Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency, the State Services for Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP), says more than 1,000 ISPs in occupied areas are being “forced to connect to Russian telecom infrastructure and re-route traffic,” which “will be controlled by Russian special services, it will be monitored, and Russian invaders will restrict the access to information resources that share true information.”
Switches aren’t happening all at once. Every few days, “there’s another company getting switched over to Russian transit from Ukraine,” says Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at a monitoring firm. Controlling and manipulating internet access is a “new front” in this war.
From All Angles
Internet infrastructure has been hit from all sides. Physically, Russian troops have seized or turned off vital equipment, and unfortunately, providers can’t access their equipment to fix it or turn services back on. According to the SSSCIP, 20% of telecom infrastructure across the country has been demolished or broken.
Zhora says Russian forces coerce Ukrainian staff members to reconfigure networks to Russian sources, or they do it themselves if they’re uncooperative. Unfortunately, he is doubtful that access can be restored to Ukrainian systems before the physical land is liberated.
Whoever wields the hand of power over the internet has significant influence, especially if it’s an authoritarian nation like Russia, which has crafted a massive internet censorship and surveillance system, cutting off users’ access to the world. Everything is on the table, too. The System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM), run by the Russian government, reads emails and text messages and intercepts communications they don’t want to go through. Social media is heavily monitored, and a lot of applications are not accessible at all.
By pushing propaganda and eliminating access to the truth, Russia hopes to squash hope and convince Ukrainians that the army has given up, abandoning the people, and that there’s no point resisting any longer. If Putin can rob Ukrainians of their hope of victory in the war, the real victory may soon follow.
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