As soon as the war started, a 31-year-old Ukrainian orchestrated a campaign on the social network Twitter in which he asked personalities such as Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, or Mark Zuckerberg, from Meta, to contribute to the blockade of Russia. His wake-up call worked: the support of the big technology companies has been total. That young man is called Mykhailo Fedorov and, although he was going for an entrepreneur, he has been deputy prime minister of Ukraine since last summer. Volodímir Zelensky offered him that position and that of Minister of Digital Transformation, making him one of the strong men of his Government.
Fedorov never thought that he would hold a similar position of responsibility. Much less than he would be part of the Executive of an invaded country. “Right now I am in kyiv. I work together with my team tirelessly and under a lot of pressure. We are fully focused on our tasks and goals, I have no time to hesitate or think about myself. Every day is a new challenge, there are always new unforeseen events. We are at war”, he writes to EL PAÍS by email. After weeks trying to attend this newspaper by video call, he finally responds in writing, citing security reasons and a constantly moving agenda, but not before apologizing for the delay.
no more @Manzana product sales in Russia!
— Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) March 1, 2022
Mark Zuckerberg, while you create Metaverse — Russia ruins real life in Ukraine! We ask you to ban access to @facebookapp and @instagram from Russia — as long as tanks and missiles attack our kindergartens and hospitals! @Goal.
— Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) February 27, 2022
Winning the favor of technology companies has not been the only contribution to the war effort of the Ministry led by Fedorov. He has also relied on cryptocurrencies to channel aid funds to Ukraine and has organized what he calls “the world’s first cyber army,” made up of some 300,000 national and foreign specialists. “From the first day of the war we realized that we needed to develop a completely new strategy to counter Russian military aggression. Modern warfare requires modern solutions. The Ukrainian Army carries out heroic actions on the battlefield on a daily basis; we believe that we can also be useful to get closer to victory”.
Shortly after hostilities began, Fedorov issued an international appeal. he wanted that hackers from around the world will help defend Ukraine. “The response has been impressive. Everyone wants to contribute. At the moment we have about 300,000 specialists. Participation is voluntary and we organize it through Telegram, where we post the daily tasks. There is no personal contact with cyber volunteers. The aggressor cannot break the chain of command because the message is horizontal. We are also not afraid that spies sneak into the channel, since the tasks are being carried out”.
The work of this team is mainly defensive. The attacks they have carried out to date have not been significant. “The information we can share is that the work of the cyber army has been felt in the lives of Russians. We have launched more than 660 cyber and denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Russian and Belarusian businesses, companies, banks and institutions,” he says.
Russia is one of the countries in the world best prepared for cyber warfare. It is said that what their secret services can do is within the reach of very few. Moscow also has many groups of hackers (known in the jargon as persistent threats, or APT) that, without being officially linked to the Kremlin, carry out actions under its patronage and tutelage. Despite all this, it is striking that Ukraine has not yet received any destructive cyberattack, something that goes far beyond cutting off the systems of banks or companies for a few hours.
Fedorov puts it down to Ukraine’s good preparation. Between 2014, the year Russia invaded Crimea, and 2017, the country suffered a long series of cyberattacks, including NotPetya, one of the ransomware (computer virus that hijacks a system and unlocks it after paying a ransom) more effective and with more international reach in history. What happened then put them on alert. “Having such a neighbor we have striven to constantly improve our position in cybersecurity, working with international partners and recruiting foreign talent.” They have trained personnel and developed cybersecurity branches in the military, police, and other state agencies. That gear has been greased with international volunteers.
But that has not shielded them. “In January of this year we suffered two large-scale cyberattacks that temporarily paralyzed some state resources. On February 15, days before the invasion, the Russians launched a DDoS attack that affected banking, critical infrastructure and official websites. This is the First World Cyber War. In Spain they must know that, although we are far away, in cyberspace there are no distances. They have no guarantee that they will not be included in this war.”
The ‘techie’ minister and ‘crypto enthusiast’
Fedorov’s support for the Ukrainian cause is not explained by a series of tweets alone. Last summer he toured Silicon Valley to present his country as fertile ground for technology investments and with serious digitization ambitions. He personally knew Tim Cook in Cupertino, with whom he was on good terms. “The success of our campaign on Twitter responds to the duties that we had done long before the war,” he explains.
Beyond getting blocks to Russia, the vice president highlights having obtained the favor of the richest man in the world, current these days after having taken over Twitter. Fedorov managed to recruit Elon Musk. “Starlink has turned out to be extremely useful in reestablishing internet connections,” he explains about the satellite internet service that is supported by SpaceX, the South African tycoon’s space company. “I would say that right now it is a strategic technology for us. We have about 10,000 active terminals. The Russians are destroying everything. They use cruise missiles and destroy cities, roads and infrastructure. Without Starlink it would take us months to restore fiber optics, and right now we don’t have that time. Today, even people in small towns and in unpopulated areas have access to fast internet. They can call their relatives and tell them that they are alive. These systems are also used by soldiers and critical infrastructure such as hospitals.
Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2022
Another of the personal bets of the young minister has been to promote cryptocurrencies as a way to ensure the arrival of international aid. The regulation has even been changed so that banks can manage accounts based on these digital assets. “Cryptocurrencies were especially important in the early days of the war because they helped us meet some urgent basic needs.” Later came the Ukraine Crypto Fund, an address where anyone can direct their donations. They implemented it together with the exchange house (exchange in slang) Ukrainian KUNA. “So far we have received more than 60 million dollars in this way, of which we have spent 45 providing the Army with bulletproof vests, armor, helmets, thermal clothing, medicine, walkie-talkies and field rations,” he illustrates. “We have plans for the Cryptofund to help in the future to rebuild the country.”
Fedorov is not worried about Russian disinformation. He considers her crude, with no real ability to affect his countrymen. “I think that Russian propaganda, like the power of his army, is overrated. Biolaboratories in the Ukraine, that Bucha’s corpses are fake… Nobody believes them. The simplest and most effective way to combat Russian disinformation is to share the truth, and that is what we are doing.”
Far from seeing them as a problem, Fedorov believes that social networks are very useful in a war context. “They serve us to share the truth, to mobilize people and businesses, to reach out to allies like Elon Musk, to create a new image of Ukraine as a land of brave and digital people. Millions of compatriots have lost their homes and have left the country. Social networks help us to be together even when we are far from our loved ones.”
Citizen complaint of looters
A little over a month ago it became known that the facial recognition company Clearview AI had given kyiv access to its systems. The American company lives involved in controversy: it is persecuted in the EU for feeding its database with images taken from the internet without permission. He says he counts some 10,000 million photos stolen from social networks and other websites, and ensures that he will soon be able to recognize all human beings who have ever been related to digital media.
“Yes, we use Clearview technology to identify Russian soldiers: those we find dead and without documents on the battlefields,” the deputy prime minister acknowledges to EL PAÍS. “It has also become a useful technology to identify war criminals. After the world saw what happened in Bucha, Irpin or Gostomel we have added a function to our chatbot of Telegram eVorog with which people can report on war criminals that we have identified”, he explains. Thus, the user uploads a photo of the suspect to the chat and the Clearview system takes care of crossing the image with those on the Government list to see if he is a person of interest. “We also use it to identify looters, mainly Russian soldiers who rob Ukrainian homes. As we have access to the recordings of the Belarusian post offices [adonde acuden supuestamente para enviar su botín], we have information about who and what has been stolen. Everyone will be punished,” she warns.
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– Article Written By @Manu González Pascual from https://elpais.com/tecnologia/2022-04-27/fedorov-la-propaganda-rusa-como-el-poder-de-su-ejercito-esta-sobrevalorada.html