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Russia vs Ukraine: is big tech choosing sides?


Big tech companies are answering Ukraine's calls to defend against Russian aggression. However, some remain silent or neutral, infuriating many users.

Last week, Ukraine called on the hacker underground to help them fight Russian aggression in the cyber realm. There are at least a dozen different groups of hackers and researchers, with Anonymous being the most prominent one, investing their effort and knowledge in helping Ukraine.

Russian hackers also opened fire on the cyber front - Conti, CyberGhost, Sandworm, among others, are siding with Putin and trying to bring different Ukrainian organizations down.

However, their allegiance might not be that sound. A member of the Conti ransomware gang has leaked the group's internal chat after Conti's aggressive message aimed at Putin's foes.

While underground hackers fight their own war, businesses also seem to be choosing sides.

Social media giants react to Ukrainian requests

Facebook owner Meta has barred the Belarusian-backed hacking collective Ghostwriter from its social media platforms. It blocked all domains associated with the malicious hacker group after it was found spreading disinformation on Facebook, hijacking the accounts of several prominent figures, including military leaders and journalists, to show fake footage of the Ukrainian army surrendering - a further indication that the conflict has spilled over into a digital information war.

Reacting to the request of the Ukrainian government, it has also restricted some accounts in Ukraine, some of which belong to the Russian state media organizations.

Mark Zuckerberg

"The Ukrainians have also suggested that we remove access to Facebook and Instagram in Russia. However, people in Russia are using FB and IG to protest and organize against the war and as a source of independent information," Nick Clegg, VP Global Affairs at Meta, tweeted on Sunday.

Meta also has barred Russian state media from posting ads and monetizing their accounts.

At the request of the Ukrainian government, Google has banned downloads of Russian state-owned media outlet RT's mobile app in Ukraine. It has also forbidden RT and other channels from earning money on their websites, apps, and Youtube.

According to Reuters, Russia's communications regulator Roskomnadzor demanded that Google remove all restrictions imposed on the Russian-language YouTube channels of RBC, TV Zvezda, and Sputnik.

Telegram backed off

Pavel Durov, the founder of the Russian-made Telegram app, which has now become instrumental in sharing the latest news from the war in Ukraine, considered suspending some Telegram channels as they are “increasingly becoming a source of unverified information related to Ukrainian events.” It was added that Telegram doesn’t have the physical ability to check all channel publications for accuracy.

Telegram app on mobile

“We do not want Telegram to be used as a tool that aggravates conflicts and incites ethnic hatred. In the event of an escalation of the situation, we will consider the possibility of partially or completely restricting the operation of Telegram channels in the countries involved for the duration of the conflict,” he said on Telegram.

Many raised eyebrows after his announcement, asking him whether Durov felt pressure from Putin. “The first casualty of war is the truth,” one comment reads.

However, less than an hour after his first post, Durov said he decided not to disable Telegram channels “for the period of conflict” as many users asked not to consider such measures as for many of them Telegram is the only source of information.

“However, once again, I ask you to double-check and not take on faith the data that is published in Telegram channels during this difficult period,” he said.

Musk sends satellites

The internet in Ukraine was disrupted due to the Russian invasion.

“@elonmusk, while you try to colonize Mars — Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, tweeted on Friday.

Starlink-satellite-deployment

SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk responded a day later, saying, “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.”

SpaceX-controlled Starlink is a satellite internet constellation providing satellite Internet access coverage.

What about Apple?

Mykhailo Fedorov also urged Apple’s Tim Cook to block access to App Store in Russia and cut supply to all of its products.

On Friday, Reuters reached out to Apple for a comment but hasn’t received an immediate response. Tim Cook hasn’t given any official statements on the matter by the time of this publication, except for a very general comment.

“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.”

However, following the US and EU sanctions, some Russian bank cards will no longer work with Apple Pay and Google Pay, noted Russian Central Bank.

On Tuesday, Apple said it has paused all product sales in Russia in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It is evident that the pressure on tech firms, big and small, is mounting. Ukraine has also reached out to Netflix, Visa, and Mastercard, asking for help in the digital realm.

While some companies still linger over their decisions, others proactively search for ways to support Ukraine.

VPN providers chipping in

Andy Yen, founder and CEO of ProtonMail and ProtonVPN, said he would be donating 10% of the company's income to Ukrainians.

"For the next 2 weeks, we are donating 10% of revenue from new @ProtonMail and @ProtonVPN subscriptions to relief efforts in #Ukraine. Freedom and privacy are human rights so basic Proton services are always free, but you can subscribe to support our mission and users in Ukraine," he tweeted.

Proton offers both free and paid subscriptions.

ProtonMail

Some users greeted the decision, while others said the company, registered in Switzerland, should remain neutral. Yen also faced criticism for choosing this particular conflict and not helping other nations in need.

The Co-Founder of NordSecurity, Tom Okman, said he would be contacting DigiCert, GeoTrust, Let's Encrypt, Cloudflare with a request to revoke certificates for all top Russian banks, fake news media outlets, government certificates, and SQL servers.

"Browsers would stop trusting them, apps wouldn't work, chaos would start within the country, and it is not that easily solvable," he said in a LinkedIn post.

Many Russian governmental websites (gov.ru) and military domains (mil.ru) use Let's Encrypt certificates. The company hasn't yet officially commented on the possibility of revoking certificates.

The curious case of Patreon

Despite being “shocked and heartbroken at the invasion of Ukraine,” Patreon suspended a Ukrainian organization's page called “Come Back Alive” because it violated their policies. Patreon said it doesn't allow the platform to be used for funding weapons or military activity. “Wishing for the safety of the Ukrainian people in harm's way,” Patreon redirected people towards other donation initiatives to help Ukraine.

Patreon's decision infuriated some pro-Ukrainian creators who have been using the platform to raise funds for years.

"We cannot agree with @Patreon's decision to suspend a vital Ukrainian NGO when their country is being invaded. Starting next month, we are canceling our Patreon page and moving to @joinsteadyEN and Contribee," NARA, an independent non-profit media organization, tweeted.


More from Cybernews:

Russian ombudsman website got hacked and defaced

Cyberattack on Ukrainian border control slows refugee crossing

Meta bans Ghostwriter hacker group

Hackers sound call to arms with digital weapon aimed at Russian websites

Anonymous leaks database of the Russian Ministry of Defence

Why swindle women online when you can just issue an NFT?

Trouble in paradise: IT professionals unhappy with cloud services

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