Anonymous, Darknet, VPN: how Ukraine struggles in cyberspace

Begun on February 24, 2022, the war in Ukraine is taking place both on the ground and in cyberspace. Ksenia Ermoshina is a research fellow at the CNRS Internet and Society Center. His work is at the crossroads of several disciplines, mixing political science and computer science. She analyzes communication infrastructures and more specifically how the occupation of a territory can influence communication methods. She has worked more specifically on the case of Ukraine since the start of the Crimean War in 2014.

Sciences et Avenir: What light can your work on Crimea shed on the war in Ukraine in 2022?

Ksenia Ermoshina: Crimea was taken by the Russians many years ago. In this, it is a kind of outpost to see what could happen in Ukraine if the country loses the war against Russia. In Crimea, the press left the peninsula in 2015, at the same time as political opponents. The latter are concerned by the fact that Crimea has been abandoned by Ukraine and some continue to go there to cover certain events on a “freelance” basis. Otherwise, the territory would live behind closed doors. The 111 operators listed in 2018 all went through Miranda Media, a subsidiary of Rostelecom, a Russian telecommunications company. This means that people no longer have access to information as before, that many sites are blocked. They therefore perceive an image of the situation as broadcast by Russia. Fleeing journalists and activists know Russian ways and seek to prepare Ukraine. They are currently very active and have been joined by Anonymous (a movement of hacktivists posing as defenders of freedom of expression, editor’s note). In addition, about 150,000 Russian technicians have left the country and some are now working on the Ukrainian side doing IT volunteer work with NGOs. The forces are very diverse now.

In parallel with the progress of the war on a territory, what tools do you use to observe cyberspace?

I use what is called my network metrology. This discipline makes it possible to analyze Internet sites and find which ones are blocked. In Russia, for example, all sites that mention the word “war” are blocked. There are open databases, applications to detect blocked sites. We also observe Internet shutdowns, which makes it possible to judge the situation in a country.

How did the population find out about the situation?

By going to a forum in the city of Simferopol (in Crimea, editor’s note), I saw that a branch of gamers were among the first to sound the alarm, in July 2014, when the submarine cable entered the Ukraine and Russia has been activated.

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