Technology & Innovation

Cryptoneutrality, Hacktivism and the Splinternet: Fallouts from the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

TechSec’s Bi-Weekly Tech News Digest: Mar 11, 2022

TechSec’s Bi-Weekly Tech News Digest: Mar 11, 2022

By Daniel Haltmeier

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the first of hopefully many bi-weekly Tech News Digests, provided by the GISA Technology and Security Initiative (TechSec). Our goal here is to give you an easy to read update of what has been happening lately in the world of technology and security. To do so, we pick the top news stories from the last two weeks and present a short summary. Should you be interested in knowing more, just follow the links below the respective paragraphs. 

In light of recent developments, the stories of this week’s digest are all related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. While we will continue to do some thematic digests from time to time, in the future we hope to simply provide you a more general glimpse of the most important tech news of the past two weeks.

The “neutrality” of cryptocurrencies

Originally, the whole idea behind cryptocurrencies was to have “neutral” money, independent from governments, but sooner than later regulators started to get involved in crypto because of its use on illegal online markets. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, regulators around the world have however found a second reason to take a closer look at Bitcoin etc. Could cryptocurrencies as “borderless” money be used by the Russians to circumvent sanctions?

To enforce sanctions, crypto exchange platforms have already started to ban Russian crypto wallets, although many of these platforms are still criticized for laxity. In addition to the first bans, sanctioned Russian individuals with crypto wallets have the problem that large cryptocurrency transactions are hard to hide. This is mostly due to the fact that blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies, functions as a public ledger. Nevertheless, crypto trading has increased significantly in both Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the war, and the Ukrainian government is now calling for a ban on all crypto transactions going to or coming from Russia. Exchange platforms have so far resisted that demand. It is worth noticing that western countries have not yet introduced special sanctions for cryptocurrencies. However, if they do so in the future, the neutrality of cryptocurrencies will definitely be over. 

Read more about this on WIRED or BBC

Hacktivism and Warfare – A dangerous mix?

We are currently witnessing the first cyberwar between a state and non-state actors. Hacker collectives such as Anonymous have announced a cyberwar against Russia soon after the beginning of the invasion. In addition to these non-state actors, tens of thousands of hackers and hacktivists around the world have joined the Ukrainian volunteer IT army. These groups have now started to unleash serious DDoS attacks in addition to other forms of cyberattacks like web defacements, data exfiltration and many more. This is the first large-scale digital battleground and most fighters on that battleground are citizens from anywhere but Ukraine. 

However, this mix of hacktivism and kinetic interstate warfare might be riskier than one many expect. Hacktivism that damages Russia’s image or its critical infrastructure could at some point serve as a pretext for further escalation. A bigger risk is that hacktivists and their display of their activities can draw attention to vulnerabilities in Russian systems that are also used quietly by intelligence actors of other countries, including Ukraine. Russian authorities will then close the vulnerabilities of which they were “kindly” informed by hacktivists, leading to loss of access for intelligence agencies. There are also experts who argue that hacktivism in a time of kinetic warfare is just an unnecessary distraction that doesn’t have much impact. However, at least one clear impact of hacktivism in the current war is already visible, namely in information warfare: Hacktivist cyberattacks damage Russia’s image, especially data leaks like the one where 120’000 names of Russian soldiers currently on mission in Ukraine were leaked. 

Read more about this on WIRED.

Artificial Intelligence and the war in Ukraine

Throughout history, war has been a catalyst for technology development and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is poised to follow that historic pattern as Ukraine might become the proving ground for military artificial intelligence (AI). Although lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) are not yet a replacement for soldiers on the ground, weapons with autonomous capabilities are being used on both sides of the war. On the one hand, Ukraine uses Turkish TB2 drones that can take off, land and cruise autonomously but don’t engage targets without human authorization. Russia on the other hand could use its Lantset “loitering” drone, armed with a warhead and able to circle a predefined geographic area until it detects a target and crashes itself into that target. 

Another application of AI in the current war is information warfare. Machine learning algorithms help in finding disinformation on social media platforms but could theoretically also be used to push disinformation on the internet. Further, AI can help in going through the vast amounts of open source intelligence in the form of commercial satellite imagery, TikTok videos etc. Making sense of these massive amounts of information will largely depend on AI.

It seems that in 2017, Russian president Vladimir Putin didn’t say without reason that “whoever becomes the leader in AI will become the ruler of the world.” It might therefore be good news that Russia’s AI capabilities are still behind those of the US or China. 

Read more about this on FORTUNE


Large internet companies like Google or Microsoft are pulling out of Russia, platforms like Facebook or TikTok are now banned inside the country and amidst all that, the Ukrainian government is calling for the blocking of all Russian internet traffic. Is the world going to kick Russia out of the Internet? Or are we about to witness the advent of what has been termed the Splinternet?

ICANN, one of the leading institutions in internet governance, has so far refused to block Russian internet traffic. Other institutions support that decision, thus sticking to the idea of a global internet. However, the “global” internet only works as long as we globally use the exact same internet infrastructure protocols, for example TCP/IP. Countries can theoretically impose their own (sovereign) webs by imposing new internet protocols. If this happens, the internet will no longer be the “borderless space” we often imagine it to be because automatically all internet traffic from such “sovereign” webs couldn’t cross into the (no longer) global internet. 

Russia’s recent actions against free speech and information on the internet could be taken a step further if they activate such new protocols, which they have already successfully tested in 2019, because Russians would lose their ability to access information abroad. Similar systems have been tested and used in other countries, such as China or Iran. It could therefore very well be that the era of the global internet might slowly come to an end and the era of the long talked about splinternet is finally (or should we say unfortunately) arriving. 

Read more about this on BBC.

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1 comment on “Cryptoneutrality, Hacktivism and the Splinternet: Fallouts from the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

  1. Pingback: Cryptocurrencies, Hackers overthrowing a government and brokers selling period app data…… just another tech news week. – The Graduate Press

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