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Hacktivist group Anonymous launches series of cyberattacks against Russia

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International hacktivist collective Anonymous has been launching a series of cyberattacks after declaring “cyber war” on Russian president Vladimir Putin in retaliation for the country’s invasion of Ukraine, the BBC reported on Sunday.

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“The Anonymous collective is officially in cyber war against the Russian government,” the hacktivist collective declared in a tweet on February 25, one day after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Anonymous’ hack on Russian TV networks piqued global interest, attracting millions of viewers after sharing a short video clip of the hack on their social media accounts.

The video showed normal programming on Russian TV being interrupted with images of bombs setting off in Ukraine and soldiers talking about the conflict.

“The hacking collective #Anonymous hacked into the Russia streaming services Wink and Ivi (like Netflix) and live TV channels Russia 24, Cannel One, Moscow 24 to broadcast war footage from Ukraine [today],” the collective tweeted alongside the video on March 7.

The stunt comprised all the typical elements of an Anonymous hack: Impactful, dramatic and easy to share online, the BBC said in its report, adding that like the collective’s other cyberattacks, it was difficult to verify who was behind it.

One of the smaller groups of hackers from the collective claimed responsibility for the hack, essentially taking over Russian TV services for 12 whole minutes. The Russian company Rostelecom that runs the hacked services did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.

“We will intensify the attacks on the Kremlin, if nothing is done to restore peace in Ukraine,” the group threatened, justifying their actions by saying that innocent Ukrainians were being massacred by Russia.

Anonymous has also taken down Russian websites and stolen government data, including a leak of Russia’s Ministry of Economic development’s database on March 1.

A partner at the security firm Red Goat Lisa Forte told the BBC that Anonymous’ attacks have so far been “quite basic,” but acknowledged that the TV hack was “incredibly creative” and “quite difficult to pull off.”

Hackers have been mostly carrying out DDoS attacks which involved overwhelming a service with a flood of requests, she said, a relatively simple way to carry out an attack and take websites offline temporarily.

Anonymous first emerged in 2003 from the website 4chan. With no leadership, the group’s tagline is ‘We are legion,’ and it is widely known to target governments, corporations, and organizations that are accused of censorship in DDoS attacks.

The group operates several social media accounts, with 15.5 million followers across its multiple Twitter pages alone.

The collective’s hackers also defaced Russian websites by gaining control of them and changing the content displayed, Forte told the BBC. Until now, the attacks have caused disruption, but cybersecurity experts are concerned about a possible escalation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Emily Taylor from the Cyber Policy Journal told the BBC in reference to the cyberattacks initiated by Anonymous. “These attacks do carry risks. [They] could lead to escalation, or some could accidentally cause real damage to a critical part of civilian life.”

Vigilante groups in Russia have also been launching their own cyberattacks on Ukraine, but on a relatively smaller scale.

Since January 2022, there have been three major waves of coordinated DDoS attacks against Ukraine and three other incidents of more serious “wiper” attacks that deleted data on a small number of Ukrainian computer systems.

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