September 26, 2022

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Ukrainian programmers divide their time between daily work and electronic warfare

Ukrainian programmers divide their time between daily work and electronic warfare

Thomas Samson | AFP | Getty Images

Crowds of Ukrainian programmers split their time between doing their day jobs and fighting a cyberwar with Russia.

More than 311,000 people have joined a group called the “IT Army of Ukraine” on the social networking platform Telegram, where Russian targets are shared. Although not all of them are from Ukraine, a significant number of them are members of the group who spoke to CNBC.

Dave, the Ukrainian software engineer, who preferred to have his surname withheld due to the nature of his comments, told CNBC that the group has helped carry out several cyber attacks outside their day-to-day jobs since the war began. He said the targets included Russian government websites, Russian banks, and currency exchange centers.

“I help the IT military carry out DDoS attacks,” he said. A distributed denial of service attack is a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal traffic of a website by flooding it with a flood of Internet traffic.

“I rented a few servers on GCP (Google Cloud Platform) and wrote a bot for myself that only accepts website links and targets attacks on them whenever I paste them,” he explained. “I usually run attacks from 3-5 servers and each server usually produces about 50,000 requests per second.”

When a list of targets is shared on his Telegram channel, Dave says he just pastes them into a bot, which took about an hour to create.

When asked how successful he has been so far, he said it was difficult to say for certain since the attacks were carried out by thousands of people simultaneously. “The joint actions are certainly successful,” he said.

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Dave is one of about 30 Ukrainians working remotely for an American technology consulting firm. The company has made work “entirely voluntary” for its Ukrainian employees.

Oleksii, a quality assurance team leading a software company in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, told CNBC that he and his colleagues are doing their best to keep the business going and keep the economy going. But it wasn’t easy.

“[During] In the early days of the war, the air raid sirens went off for 24 hours straight and you couldn’t think of working in those moments – you could only think about your family and your children and how to keep them safe and sheltered.”

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Oleksiy said he has been working on average no more than two hours a day. “In times like these, it is of course difficult to prioritize professional work,” he said.

In addition to his regular job, Oleksii is also trying to help Ukraine win electronic warfare. “As an IT worker, I hope to be able to serve my country on the digital front lines, as this war is going on in the digital world as well,” he said. “On a daily basis, I help access many European and American websites and ask them to stop doing business with Russia, posting on social networks, etc.”

Targeting of Gazprom and Sberbank

Another developer, Anton, said that he personally participated in the DDoS attack on Russian oil giant Gazprom, as well as others against Russia’s Sberbank and the government. Gazprom, Sberbank and the Russian government did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

“There are a lot of people involved in the attack, so it won’t take long for the service to go down,” he told CNBC.

Meanwhile, Nikita, CEO and co-founder of a cybersecurity company, told CNBC that he is also a member of the Telegram channel of Ukraine’s IT Army. His company works for clients all over the world and its employees have continued to work throughout the Russian invasion. They perform “penetration testing” and check IT systems for vulnerabilities.

Nikita told CNBC that he was trying, via messaging services, to tell Russian citizens what was really happening in Ukraine Amid strict media controls from Moscow. He said he and his hacking team are also publishing Russian credit card details online. “I posted like 110,000 credit cards in Telegram channels,” he said, adding that he wanted to inflict economic damage on Russia.

“We want them to go into the Stone Age and we are good at it,” Nikita said, adding that they are now targeting Russian gas stations with a cyberattack. However, he emphasized that he does not hate all Russians and that he is grateful to the Russians who help Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov urged people to join the channel last month, saying that Ukraine continues to fight on the cyber front.

Yehor, another technical expert working for an international remote cybersecurity company from Ukraine, also juggles his normal role alongside cyberwarfare.

“My company is trying not to pressure us into any timetables,” he said, adding that some employees were still in Kyiv or Kharkiv, where the fighting is more intense.

“I try to provide equal time for work and cyber attack. Unfortunately, my family is not with me, so I have more free time than usual,” he added.

Smart Citizens Online

Nearly four weeks later, Ukraine continues to endure a barrage of cyber attacks, most of them targeting its government and military, according to CPR data.

Moscow has consistently denied that it is participating in cyberwarfare or assisting in cyberattacks. On February 19, a The Russian Embassy in Washington said on Twitter It has “never and does not carry out any ‘malicious’ operations in cyberspace”.

Additional reporting by Monica Buchanan Petrelli.