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How Anonymous Hackers are Trying to Undermine Putin

A member of the Squad 303/Anonymous hacker group

Since declaring “cyberwar” on President Vladimir Putin in revenge for the invasion of Ukraine, the Anonymous hacktivist group has been assaulting Russia with cyber-attacks. Several members of the group spoke to the BBC about their motivations, methods, and intentions.

An Anonymous cyber attack on Russian TV networks stands out among all the cyber-attacks carried out since the Ukraine crisis began.

The hack was documented in a brief video clip that shows regular programming interrupted by footage of bombs bursting in Ukraine and troops discussing the hardships of the fight.

On February 26th, the video became viral after being reposted by anonymous social media accounts with millions of followers. “JUST IN: #Anonymous has hacked #Russian state TV stations to reveal the truth about what’s going on in #Ukraine,” 

The action has all of the characteristics of an Anonymous hack: it’s theatrical, effective, and easy to distribute online. It was also difficult to verify, as were many of the group’s prior cyber-attacks.

However, one of the smaller groups of Anonymous hackers claimed responsibility and claimed to have taken over TV services for 12 minutes.

The original individual who shared the video was also able to confirm that it was genuine. Eliza is American, but her father is Russian, and when his TV shows were interrupted, he contacted her. “When it happened, my father contacted me and said, ‘Oh my God, they’re telling the truth!’ So I had him videotape it, and then I uploaded the video on YouTube. He claims that one of his pals witnessed the incident as well.”

The Russian firm that controls the compromised services, Rostelecom, has yet to reply to demands for comment.

The hackers rationalized their acts by claiming that civilians in Ukraine were being slaughtered. “If nothing is done to restore peace in Ukraine,” they said, “we will increase our attacks on the Kremlin.”

Although Anonymous claims to have knocked down Russian websites and stolen government data, Lisa Forte, a partner at cyber-security firm Red Goat, says the majority of these attacks have been “pretty rudimentary” thus far.

DDoS assaults, in which a server is swamped by a rush of requests, have been the most common method used by hackers, she added. These are simple to carry out and only take websites offline for a short period of time.

“However, the TV hack is really imaginative, and I would suppose rather tough to pull off,” she remarked.

Who is Anonymous?

  • The hacktivist organization originally appeared on the website 4chan in 2003.
  • “We are legion” is the catchphrase of the group, which has no leadership.
  • Anyone can pretend to be a member of the group and hack for whatever reason they wish, however they usually target organizations suspected of abusing their authority.
  • A Guy Fawkes mask is their emblem, which was made popular by Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, in which an anarchist rebel overthrows a corrupt fascist government.
  • The group has several social media profiles, having 15.5 million Twitter followers alone.

Russian websites have also been vandalized by anonymous hackers. According to Forte, this entails acquiring control of a website in order to alter the material presented.

So far, the assaults have created inconvenience and shame, but since the invasion, cyber-experts have been increasingly concerned about the rise of hacktivism.

They are concerned that a hacker may inadvertently disable a hospital’s computer network or disrupt key communication lines.

Emily Taylor of the Cyber Policy Journal adds, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“These assaults do pose a threat. They might lead to an escalation, or someone could inadvertently harm a vital aspect of civilian life.”

This is the most active Anonymous has been in years. Until Russia attacked his nation, Roman, a Ukrainian IT entrepreneur who leads a gang of hackers known as Stand for Ukraine, had no ties to the organization.

However, he informed me that when he and his colleagues momentarily attacked the Russian official news agency Tass’s website with an anti-Putin banner, they added an Anonymous emblem.

Roman coordinates his team’s creation of websites, Android applications, and Telegram bots to aid Ukraine’s military effort and hack Russian targets from his Kyiv residence.

“I’m ready to go pick up a weapon for Ukraine, but my talents are more suited to the computer at the time. So, with my two laptops in hand, I’m coordinating this IT resistance from the comfort of my own house.”

He claims that his gang shut down a Russian regional train ticket service for several hours, although the BBC has not been able to confirm this.

“These things are unlawful and wrong until there is a threat to you or your relative,” he justifies his activities.

Another hacker organization that has united with Anonymous is Squad 303, which is named after a renowned Polish fighter squadron from WWII.

“We constantly collaborate with Anonymous, and I now consider myself a member of the Anonymous movement,” says one of the members, who goes by the name of WW2 pilot Jan Zumbach.

He didn’t want his image taken, but a Ukrainian member of his squad shared a photo of himself wearing a helmet and mask. “During the day, I’m on the barricade with a gun, and at night, I’m hacking with the Squad/Anonymous,” he said.

Squad 303 has created a website that allows members of the public to send text messages to random Russian phone numbers informing them of the war’s facts. More than 20 million SMS and WhatsApp messages are said to have been sent over their platform.

This, according to two Anonymous organizations I talked with, is the most significant thing the collective has done for Ukraine thus far.

When asked how he justified the Squad’s criminal activities, Jan Zumbach said that they did not take or disclose any private information and that they were merely seeking to communicate with Russians in order to win the information war.

He did say, though, that they were preparing a more significant attack in the coming days.

Attacks against Ukraine are also being carried out by vigilante groups in Russia but on a lower scale.

Since January, Ukraine has been subjected to three large waves of coordinated DDoS assaults, as well as three occurrences of more catastrophic “wiper” attacks that erased data from a limited number of Ukrainian computer systems.

Ukraine claims to be in the midst of its first ‘hybrid war.’

The vigilante hackers of Russia have joined the attack on Ukraine.

Cyber-attacks on Ukrainian websites are becoming more frequent.

Following an alleged breach, an altered video of President Zelensky emerged on the Ukraine 24 TV channel’s website on Wednesday.

However, in today’s world, determining who is behind anyone cyber-attack is difficult.

“Anon2World, a long-time Anonymous hacker, believes that the Achilles heel of Anonymous is that anybody may pretend to be Anonymous, including state entities working against what we’re fighting for.”

“With our present popularity, it’s practically a foregone conclusion that there will be apparent government ramifications. We’re used to turmoil, especially online, so adding to it isn’t a problem.”

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