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Tech world's Ukraine response mixes evacuation efforts, ad bans, free phones, infosec FUD
And personal sorrow, as the horror of Russian invasion hits home
As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, the technology industry is trying to use its services to make a difference – and to keep those services available as the war makes it harder to operate.
Nation-state level responses to the invasion have been led by the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, which together on Saturday barred Russian entities from using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication's (SWIFT’s) money transfer services. Doing so leaves Russian banks effectively unable to transact across borders using digital technology – but Russia almost certainly still able to use digital technology in the service of its illegal invasion.
The Global Sourcing Association – a UK-based body formerly known as the National Outsourcing Association and which promotes strategic use of services resources around the world – last week reported "evidence of service disruption as companies are struggling to exercise their business continuity plans due to the extent of the disruption and employees are having to decide if they want to stay and work or choose to evacuate the main cities."
"We understand internet services have been significantly impacted, so even those choosing to stay and work may not be able to," the Association's post adds.
That assessment appears accurate. Hitachi's services arm, GlobalLogic, which employs over 7,000 people in Ukraine, posted its continuity plan including a pledge to organize and fund "temporary relocation of professionals and their families to safer regions." Subsequent reports suggest that plan was enacted, and an effort to relocate staff to Germany, Poland, and other nearby countries has been invoked.
Apple also appears to be ready to assist its people in Ukraine.
I am deeply concerned with the situation in Ukraine. We're doing all we can for our teams there and will be supporting local humanitarian efforts. I am thinking of the people who are right now in harm's way and joining all those calling for peace.— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) February 25, 2022
But even with all the resources of an Apple or Hitachi to hand, exiting Ukraine is far from easy. Take, for example, the experience of HypaSec CEO Chris Kubecka.
Kubecka has taken to Twitter to detail her journey from Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, into Romania. She described a lengthy trip on which fuel was scarce, queues long, and anxiety unavoidable.
Update from #Ukraine— Chris Kubecka 🇵🇷🇨🇿🇳🇱 ✈️🇺🇦 @MiddleEastInst (@SecEvangelism) February 25, 2022
Sure wish Google maps was accurate. We're spending the night on the bus. Hoping we have enough fuel to keep the auto heater on. Mikhail takes the 1st sleeping shift, I watch & pull forward if we can inch closer to the border. We're all tired except the kids pic.twitter.com/vWcQw0aye3
Kudecka made it across the border, but experienced delays she attributed in part to wiper malware that destroyed Ukrainian border authorities' computers and slowed processing.
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Social media operators have responded to the conflict in two ways – one of which is trying to ensure their services remain available.
Those services are being assaulted by blizzards of misinformation, censorship from regimes that want news of the invasion kept from their citizens, and disruptions to their networks.
We're aware that Twitter is being restricted for some people in Russia and are working to keep our service safe and accessible.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) February 26, 2022
Google has, belatedly, cottoned on to the fact that Russian state-controlled media – whose content currently bears even less relation to the truth than usual – make money using its platforms. Over the weekend the ads and search giant therefore prevented such outlets from using ads on YouTube. Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has done likewise.
Carriers are trying to help out by making it free to reach Ukraine – with the caveat that they can't be sure local infrastructure remains operable. BT's tweeted offer, shown below, is typical.
For anyone wanting to contact loved ones in Ukraine, we've made mobile and landline calls, texts and data to and from the region free from today, 25 February.— BT (@bt_uk) February 25, 2022
Please be aware that signal in the area might be affected by damage to local networks and equipment. pic.twitter.com/XUDt4hscwq
Elon Musk has turned on SpaceX's Starlink space broadband service in Ukraine, and said shipments of the hardware needed to run the service are under way. With transport inside Ukraine limited, it's hard to know if this is more than an empty gesture.
Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2022
Information security remains a focus of the conflict, with hacktivist collective Anonymous claiming it has weighed in to disrupt Russia's government and banks as acts of solidarity with Ukraine.
Hacking group GNG, affiliated with #Anonymous hacks and leaks database of #Russia's SberBANK in support of Ukrainian people. [thread in quoted tweet with data breach link]https://t.co/a0vXUizEpo— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) February 28, 2022
Numerous other allegations exist regarding different groups attacking or disabling digital infrastructure in Ukraine, Russia, or neighboring states.
Vx-underground claims it has intelligence describing conflict among ransomware gangs as their criminal operators take sides in the conflict.
Earlier today Lockbit ransomware group, a competitor of Conti ransomware group, delivered a message regarding "the Cyber Threat to Russia". They state they are remaining "apolitical" due to members being from around the globe.— vx-underground (@vxunderground) February 28, 2022
Attached image is full statement.
Intel via @radvadva pic.twitter.com/zjH9CeF6nY
Some IT pros with connections to the conflict are taking it hard. Veeam senior vice president Anton Gostev has suspended his weekly newsletter for the duration of the conflict.
"Apologies, but I just can't get my head straight to write anything meaningful … I'm part Ukrainian so you can guess what I feel right now, seeing the bombs hitting cities of my relatives, all the deaths and suffering from a totally meaningless conflict," he wrote. ®