Ukraine at D+77: Hackivism, amid a temporary stalemate.
N2K logoMay 12, 2022

Hacktivists continue to make their nuisance-level contributions to both sides in Russia's war against Ukraine.

Ukraine at D+77: Hackivism, amid a temporary stalemate.

The UK's Ministry of Defence writes, in its morning situation report, that Russian forces continue their withdrawal, under pressure, from Kharkiv. "Ukrainian forces are continuing to counter-attack to the north of Kharkiv, recapturing several towns and villages towards the Russian border. Russia’s prioritisation of operations in the Donbas has left elements deployed in the Kharkiv Oblast vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukrainian counter-attacking force. Despite Russia’s success in encircling Kharkiv in the initial stages of the conflict, it has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganise and replenish its forces following heavy losses. Once reconstituted, these forces will likely deploy to the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, forming a blocking force to protect the western flank of Russia’s main force concentration and main supply routes for operations in the vicinity of Izium. The withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kharkiv Oblast is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population."

Killnet hits Italian targets.

Killnet, a hacktivist group aligned with Russian interests, has conducted nuisance-level attacks against a range of Italian targets, Reuters reports. The organizations affected include the Senate, the National Health Institute (ISS) and the Automobile Club d'Italia, the national drivers' association. The nature of the attacks wasn't specified, but Killnet's track record and the speed with which services were restored suggest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Killnet has counted coup against other governments hostile to Russia's special military operation, with Romania having received the most extensive attention from the gang.

Access restored to RuTube.

Reuters also reports that security teams (some from Russian cybersecurity firm Positive Technologies) have restored access to RuTube, Russia's autarkic alternative to YouTube, after the service was downed for three days by hacktivists acting in the perceived Ukrainian interest. The service was taken offline Monday during Russian Victory Day celebrations.

Hacktivism in the hybrid war.

Ukrainian security firm Hacken, which specializes in testing blockchain security, decamped from Kyiv at the beginning of the war and reestablished itself in Lisbon. Since then, the Wall Street Journal reports, the company has both sought to stay in business and to contribute to Ukraine's war effort by hacking Russian services. Among Hacken's contributions is the DDoS application Liberator, which allows users to volunteer their devices for use in DDoS attacks against Russian companies. (The target selection is interesting, and shows some insight into Russian logistical weaknesses. One of the companies hit, the Journal says, manufactures military boots.)

At one level it's difficult not to sympathize with Hacken and those like them. What thinking person wouldn't wish confusion to the Russian forces? But hacktivism has a downside that parallels the familiar downsides of irregular warfare that the laws of armed conflict have long struggled with. Tech Monitor quotes both US (NSA's Rob Joyce) and Australian (ACSC's Abby Bradshaw) officials on the problem: hacktivism introduces “extreme unpredictability” for intelligence services and that there is potential for “spillover and wrongful attribution, retribution and escalation.”

Kherson's occupation administration will ask for annexation by Russia.

Possibly struck by the insight that Russia is as unlikely to be able to pull off a convincing, rigged plebiscite as it was able to (say) keep an armored regiment fueled and fed, the leaders Russia installed in the occupied Ukrainian city are asking that Russia simply annex the city. Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the military administration Russia's using to run Kherson ("puppet governors," the Telegraph sternly but accurately calls them) has said he, or his colleagues, will ask Russia to annex them directly. “The city of Kherson is Russia; there will be no KNR [Kherson People’s Republic] on the territory of the Kherson region, there will be no referendums,” the Guardian quotes Stremousov as saying in a televised briefing. “It will be a single decree based on the appeal of the leadership of the Kherson region to the president of the Russian Federation, and there will be a request to make [Kherson] into a full-fledged region of the Russian Federation.”

Doing so would make negotiations with Ukraine more difficult, and it seems likely that this is either Mr. Strmousov thinking with his mouth open or a way for Russia to apply further pressure on its Ukrainian foe. The US Director of National Intelligence said that she believed President Putin was preparing for a protracted war, the Washington Post reports. Avril Haines, the DNI, thinks Mr. Putin's ambitions remain more extensive than simply the Donbas.

An objective counter-achieved: Finland and Sweden advance their plans to join NATO.

The two Nordic countries have already received unilateral assurances from British Prime Minister Johnson that the UK would provide military assistance to defend Finland and Sweden should they come under Russian attack. Finland's prime minister and president have said their country will apply for NATO membership, and Sweden is expected to follow suit within days, the AP reports. The development was unwelcome in Moscow, where it's (correctly) perceived as a major strategic setback. (It's unclear if that setback is understood to be a self-inflicted wound.) The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory steps of military-technical and other characteristics in order to counter the emerging threats to its national security.” Seeking to strike a somber, statesmanlike tone, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said, “There is always a risk of such conflict turning into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for all.”