As the Crimean peninsula remains under Russian security and administrative control following recent clashes between protesters and the government, Ukraine’s communication networks have been disrupted, and Ukrainian sites have been defaced with pro-Russia propaganda messages or taken offline, according to news reports from the BBC news service.
Those on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have engaged in “hacktivism,” which refers to cyberattacks based around social, political and religious issues, has surrounded similar international conflicts including those between Russia and Georgia, and Russia and Lithuania in 2008.
It’s difficult to know the origins of these attacks, but it’s suspected that these nationalistic online attacks were either sponsored or at least tacitly condoned by the countries involved.
Cyber-Berkut, a Ukrainian hacktivist group, has claimed responsibility for vandalizing 40 websites since the dispute began.
Another tool common to hacktivists has are Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks which basically overwhelm servers with a large number of requests so that legitimate traffic can’t reach sites.
In a January interview with Chris Risley, CEO of DDoS mitigation provider Defense.net, he said that hacktivism has been responsible for many of the largest volume DDoS attacks.
Defense.net founder and CTO Barrett Lyon said hacktivism is a bit of a misleading term. “What you’re doing is cutting off internet access to somebody, and saying it’s okay for anyone to make a decision on who’s online and who’s not,” he said. “It actually goes against the whole cause of an open internet.”
The attack on Ukraine communications seems to not just be online, but involve physical disruptions to infrastructure. BBC reports that Ukrainian telecom was raided last week, and cabling was tampered with, causing some Ukrainians to lose service.
Communication systems are often targeted in times of destabilization because they disrupt an enemy or dissident’s ability to relay information and organize, helping re-establish order and centrally consolidate power. This has been seen in Syria and Egypt, where governments were able to essentially cut off internet communication.
But given the diverse connections Ukraine has access to, it’s unlikely that Ukraine’s communications infrastructure could be entirely taken offline.
And as Ukrainian and pro-Russian factions continue to oppose one another, hacktivists for both sides will likely continue to attack online.