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Thousands of volunteer hackers and IT specialists around the world are helping defend Ukraine, and some are doing so by targeting Russian organizations with cyberattacks, a senior Ukrainian government cybersecurity official asserted on Friday.

Russian media outlets that are “constantly lying to their citizens,” and financial and transportation organizations supporting the war effort, are among the potential targets for digital attacks from the so-called Ukrainian “IT army,” according to Victor Zhora, an official at the Ukrainian cybersecurity agency charged with protecting government networks.

The “IT army” is a loose band of Ukrainian citizens and foreigners that are not part of the Ukrainian government — but Kyiv is encouraging them. It’s an example of how the Ukrainian government is pulling out all the stops to try to slow Russia’s military assault, and illustrates how cyberattacks have played a supporting role in the war.

The goal of the “IT army” of Ukraine is to “do everything possible … to make [the] aggressor feel uncomfortable with their actions in cyberspace and in Ukrainian land,” Zhora told journalists in a video conference Friday.

Hacktivists of various stripes — from Belarusians opposed to the war, to self-described Russian vigilante hackers — have entered the information war and claimed to have carried out hacks on their opponents. 

The website of Russian state media outlet TASS was hacked Monday and briefly displayed a message referencing Russian casualties in the war in Ukraine and denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin. Though it wasn’t clear who example was responsible for the hack, the logo of the hacking collective Anonymous appeared on the TASS website.

More background: In calling for volunteer hackers last Saturday, Ukraine Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted a link to a list of potential targets that included major Russian energy and financial firms.

Zhora asserted that any hacking conducted by the “IT army” was defensive in nature, and that the Ukrainian government does not take responsibility for cyberattacks the volunteers carry out on Russian organizations.

Ukrainian cybersecurity officials continue their work protecting government networks despite the Russian bombardment of key Ukrainian cities, Zhora said.

“We are not afraid” of any escalation in cyberspace from Russia, Zhora said. 

“We are much more afraid of missiles targeting Ukrainian schools, hospitals, and residential districts,” he continued.

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