Ukraine calls on hacker underground to defend against Russia

Smoke rises from the territory of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry's unit, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV (REUTERS) - The government of Ukraine is asking for volunteers from the country's hacker underground to help protect critical infrastructure and conduct cyber spying missions against Russian troops, according two people involved in the project.

As Russian forces attacked cities across Ukraine, requests for volunteers began to appear on hacker forums on Thursday morning (Feb 24), as many residents fled the capital Kyiv.

"Ukrainian cyber-community! It's time to get involved in the cyber defence of our country," the post read, asking hackers and cyber-security experts to submit an application via Google docs, listing their specialties, such as malware development, and professional references.

Dr Yegor Aushev, co-founder of a cyber-security company in Kyiv, told Reuters he wrote the post at the request of a senior Defence Ministry official who contacted him on Thursday.

Dr Aushev's firm Cyber Unit Technologies is known for working with Ukraine's government on the defence of critical infrastructure.

Another person directly involved in the effort confirmed that the request came from the Defence Ministry on Thursday morning.

Ukraine Defence Ministry representatives did not respond to a request for comment. A defence attache at Ukraine's embassy in Washington said he "cannot confirm or deny information from Telegram channels" referring to the mobile messaging platform, and declined further comment.

Dr Aushev said the volunteers would be divided into defensive and offensive cyber units. The defensive unit would be employed to defend infrastructure such as power plants and water systems.

In a 2015 cyberattack, widely attributed to Russia state hackers, 225,000 Ukrainians lost electricity.

The offensive volunteer unit Dr Aushev said he is organising would help Ukraine's military conduct digital espionage operations against invading Russian forces.

"We have an army inside our country," Dr Aushev said. "We need to know what they are doing."

On Wednesday, a newly discovered piece of destructive software was found circulating in Ukraine, hitting hundreds of computers, according to researchers at the cyber-security firm ESET.

Suspicion fell on Russia, which has repeatedly been accused of hacks against Ukraine and other countries. The victims included government agencies and a financial institution, Reuters previously reported.

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Russia has denied the allegations.

The effort to build a cyber military force is coming late in the game, Dr Aushev acknowledged.

A Ukrainian security official said earlier this month that the country had no dedicated military cyber force, the Washington Post reported. "It's our task to create them this year," he told the Washington Post.

Reached late Thursday night in Ukraine, Dr Aushev said he already had received hundreds of applicants and was going to begin vetting to ensure that none of them were Russian agents.

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