Why is it not Beneficial for Russia to Organize Cyber Operations, and why Should Programmers Reject Working for the Kremlin
Nowadays, governments, private entities and hacktivists are becoming more skilled and have gained more tools to expose those behind cyberattacks. When it comes to large-scale attacks, experts often identify Russia.
Russian and foreign programmers who participate in Kremlin-organized cyberattacks can intentionally or unintentionally reveal their employers’ names and air any information publicly. They thus facilitate the attribution of cyberattacks to foreign entities and this, in turn, causes international incidents.
Although these programmers work with special services, they are not professional intelligence officers, but only hired hackers. More often, the Kremlin has simply “found” them because they had previously broken the law, giving the Kremlin leverage to coerce them to collaborate.
In 2013, Russian Deputy Minister of Defence Oleg Ostapenko stated that they were forming special units – scientific squads that could include hackers with criminal backgrounds. In the same year, cyber-criminal Oleksii Belan was arrested in Greece at the request of the United States, but he escaped extradition and fled to Russia. He was trapped there and forced to work with special services to avoid further criminal charges. At the behest of Russian intelligence and with the help of another “hacker-mercenary” from Canada, he carried out cyber attacks on Yahoo.
In some cases, by employing hackers, the Kremlin uses the motivation of patriotism (national pride) and offers the revenge on Western structures that allegedly downplay Russian values and the idea of the “russkiy mir” (“Russian world”). For patriotic or other reasons, even anti-Kremlin activists “justify Moscow”, convincing others that the Kremlin is not always responsible for the cyberattacks attributed to it.
In his speech “Behind the Digital Curtain”, held in Brussels last summer, activist Aleksandr Isavnin, with the Russian opposition public organization “Roskomsvoboda”, asserted that not all the attacks for which Russia is blamed were carried out with the Kremlin’s support, including the “NotPetya” cyberattack, which is associated with Russia by most experts. He believes that, by conducting these attacks, ordinary programmers are testing their capabilities.
To properly identify the perpetrators, one should determine the beneficiaries of cyberattacks, and whether they can be conducted under a foreign name when servers in other countries are being used specifically.
On the other hand, IT companies which accept the offer to work for the Kremlin in the cyber sphere compromise themselves, losing their reputation and profits. For instance, in 2014, the Italian company Hacking Team lost its export license because it sold hacking iPhone software to the Russian company Advanced Monitoring, which works with the Federal Security Service.
In any case, when the attacks are exposed, Moscow denies its involvement. Despite holding public hacking campaigns to employ hackers, Moscow does not recognize that they work for it, and abandons them when they get into trouble. At the same time, hackers themselves, and their families, risk financial or legal consequences and, when trapped in Russia, cannot travel to Europe for study, vacation, or work.
In May 2019, the European Union decided that these hackers would be subject to a similar sanctions regime as applied to those charged with the use of prohibited chemical weapons. The sanctions include asset freezing and entry bans.
In 2014, the first criminal case on a large-scale hacking operation sponsored by Russia was opened in the USA. Russian spies Dmytro Dokuchaiev and Igor Sushchin paid two programmers, a Canadian of Kazakh origin, Karim Baratov, and the above mentioned Latvian citizen Oleksii Belan, to crack 6,000 Yahoo accounts and get the information of another half billion users. British intelligence MI-5 played a key role in the detection of this attack. Baratov was sentenced to five years in prison, while Belan was listed as “the most wanted criminal” in the United States. Dmytro Dokuchaiev was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of sharing information with foreign intelligence.
Programmers should be aware of the fact that, even if the operations are ordered by the government, they still bear criminal responsibility. Hackers may even risk their lives. For example, in June 2019 a new form of war was launched – physical destruction in response to digital aggression. Namely, in response to a (planned) cyber-attack by Hamas activists, Israeli forces bombed a house where “cyber-operations” were taking place.
As cyberattacks are increasingly being revealed, hackers find themselves trapped between criminal charges and blackmail – and even death – while companies risk losing their reputations or licences. Cyber operations therefore expose anyone who works for the Kremlin in this sphere to harm. Further, Russia’s involvement in cyber operations itself undermines international cooperation on issues of global importance.
By visiting Moscow on Saturday, the 11 of January Angela Merkel gave a sign that she refused to admit that Putin was intentionally part of the problems of almost everything they discussed – especially, problems related to Syria, Ukraine and Russian gas.
Till the last year geopolitical interests of Ukraine on the international stage equated the interests of international liberal community. And the European leaders seemed to understand it and even voiced it in all possible meetings and press-conferences. In the period immediately after the occupation of Crimea by Russia, the political leaders of Ukraine were able to communicate this message and create a coalition of the states that stood up to the aggressive foreign policy of the Kremlin. Now, unfortunately, as it could be anticipated, Ukraine no longer stands up for its interests as a sovereign state. We cannot expect other states to do that for Ukraine. At the same time, it should be underlined that Ukraine’s success in winning its sovereignty and territorial integrity back may be the last chance for the international community to push-back Russian imposition of “the rules of the game”.
Instead of it, we see that Macron’s rhetoric about normalisation of the relations with Russia and Merkel’s ignoration of Kremlin’s imperialistic ambitions inspire the lobby groups who trade the long-term interests of the European society for commercial gain. This “short-sighted benefit-mentality” of some representatives of the European societies is “used” by the Kremlin to deceit them. In such a way Russia creates coalition without the members of the coalition even knowing it. These leaders or lobby groups put their states on the one side of the history and the states that suffer from Russia’s imperialism on the other.
Thirteen minutes to twelve on the 31st of December 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy pronounced a speech. It was not an ordinary speech. It was a speech that tried to give birth to the “national idea of Ukraine”.
Let’s analyse some of theses of the New Year’s speech of the President Zelenskyy to Ukrainians to see whether he succeeded to give birth to the “national idea of Ukraine” or dismissed it instead (see the text of the full speech here https://www.unian.info/society/10816211-zelensky-s-new-year-address-everyone-should-answer-the-question-who-am-i.html):
The President identifies a Ukrainian to be the one that has full right not obey the law and not to learn Ukrainian language. He says that it is absolutely OK not to be willing to speak the state language. Ukrainians should accept it. There is no call to action and no solution to the antagonism regarding this issue in the society.
It needs to be reminded that just two days before this Speech the President dismissed the rule of law for the sake of the “unequal exchange”, and the “Citizen of Ukraine” had only “LIFE”.
Of course, we do respect them. But the fame puts responsibility on those who is famous as these people have followers. They are role models for them. The Kremlin uses the fame of the actors and singers to propagate its state policy. It is dangerous to ignore the power of the fame.
Indeed, the “crosses on the graves of soldiers do not compete in patriotism,” but for the sake of the patriotism they fell under those crosses. They were driven by the patriotism and they gave their life for it.
The value of respect noble. But outside the context of a “national idea”.
Correct but war as well as peace are two-way road. If Russia stops fighting, there will be no war, if Ukraine stops fighting – there will be no Ukraine (Edmont Huet).
In other words, the self-identification of Ukrainians does not matter for the President.
The President failed to envision this future.
To sum up, the Speech of the President is not about the national idea, it is about being human and meeting the needs of a human (if you read the text of the full speech you will see that the aspects that Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentions fit into the lower levels of the Maslow pyramid). How can Ukrainians be driven to meet the needs? And why should they do it in Ukraine and not in another country? With what they should identify themselves? With respect? Or unity?
Therefore, the concepts of “national idea” and “human values / needs” cannot be replaced; they must be complementary. A national idea as a spirit of the people should be a motivator for meeting the needs within their own country.
PhD, author of thesis “Sovereignty to secure interests of states. Aspects of International and European Law”, Founder of Promote Ukraine, Brussels