Cyberwar could target traffic lights or braking systems, says expert

Our reliance on smart technologies is putting us at risk, as tensions rise on the cyber front.

Many enthusiasts have joined the digital armies both on the Ukrainian and Russian sides. Ideally, such actions should disrupt military operations only, but, as with the real war, they can also affect innocent civilians.

Anonymous received a wave of criticism after publishing its latest leak containing approximately 150,000 logins. Even though it seems like a combination of email addresses and passwords from previous leaks, the hacker collective was roasted for targeting innocent Russians.

"In my country, we had a Yandex taxi (which was a cheap option, especially for students),” said one Twitter user. “I believe many people aren't using Yandex anymore, but still have profiles. So this is affecting innocent people who don't support Putin at all."

Another user, claiming to be Ukrainian and currently in Kyiv, expressed hope that the leak didn't contain his information as he also used to have a Yandex email.

"Hacking regular citizens is not humanitarian work," a Cybernews reader said in a comment.

Many experts believe that the cyberwar will become uglier still, and more innocent people might suffer. And as we become increasingly reliant on smart technologies, unintended victims of overly enthusiastic cyber volunteers could also multiply.

Recently, pro-Ukrainian hackers hijacked electric vehicle charging stations in Russia to display messages expressing support for Ukraine. This came on the heels of an announcement that Tesla would offer free charging at stations on the borders of the war-torn country to help those fleeing the conflict.

According to Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of trading and surveillance technology, such hacktivism is more than just a way to taunt Putin. It illustrates the breadth of the coming cyberwar.

"Most don't think about the incredible technology that goes into vehicles and their chargers. They don't consider the technology that goes into their smart refrigerators and televisions. We forget that every new piece of technology is an additional risk for bad actors who wish to disrupt our lives," he told Cybernews.

As the cyberwar continues to proliferate, it could become an ongoing concern for the owners of electric vehicles.

"Hacking could even manifest itself in traffic lights or brakes that rely on electrical systems rather than mechanical ones,” Gardner added. “Even some car keys. The opportunities for hackers are everywhere."

Russians are being slowly cut off from the Western internet, with the media forced to suspend its reporting from Russia amid fears of the 15-year jail sentence the Kremlin has imposed on anyone disagreeing with it. In a parallel move, Putin’s regime, enraged by what it considers disinformation and fake news, has blocked Twitter and Facebook.

And even if some manage to circumvent the ban by using VPNs, many are left only with information that the state propaganda machine feeds them.

"Right now, everyday Russians don't have the same access to information that most of us take for granted,” said Gardner. “Sure, folks may complain about political bias in our press, but alternative press exists in a free society.

“For many Russians, getting the message across through charging stations, or even seeing news masquerading as Google restaurant reviews, could change the opinion on the ground. There is a lot of geopolitics behind these hacks, and Russian officials certainly will have heightened concern.”

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