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INTERNATIONAL > Ukraine Crisis

Japanese citizens join Ukraine’s IT army, launch cyberattacks on Russia

  • June 5, 2022
  • , Asahi , pp. 3 and 28
  • JMH Translation

By Shino Ken’ichiro and senior staff writer Sudo Tatsuya

 

In late April, “IT Army of 5ch” tweeted the following message and included the URL of the Russian government’s website. “We want to attack this site and need your help to make the server crash. Please join us.” 

 

On Feb. 26, two days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government called for volunteers worldwide to join its “IT Army” in fighting back against Russia by carrying out cyberattacks. More than 260,000 people have registered on the special channel set up on the Telegram messaging app. It seems that the “IT Army of 5ch” is active in Japan in support the IT army.

 

The Asahi Shimbun asked “IT Army of 5ch” volunteers for an interview to find out what kind of people belong to the group and how they view their participation. In late March, seven people agreed to an online group interview with the Asahi. One male member answered questions verbally, and the other six answered questions via the chat function.

 

They said the group was formed in late February and they joined after exchanging messages on the “go chan-neru [5 channel]” anonymous bulletin board. The group had slightly under 70 members at the time of the interview. They said they have carried out cyberattacks against the websites of the Russian and Belarussian government organizations based on a list of targets provided by the Ukrainian government.

 

Possible violation of law

 

In principle, people who conduct cyberattacks to make websites crash can be accused of violating the law regardless of the country. According to lawyer Yamaoka Hiroaki, who is familiar with the legal system governing the internet, such cyberattacks in Japan fall under the crime of obstruction of business by damaging a computer. But Japanese criminal law does not necessarily apply to cyberattacks targeting the websites of the Russian government and companies.

 

Yamaoka points out: “Though such cyberattacks are illegal, the people involved in them are unlikely to be punished. But that doesn’t mean the attacks will always be tolerated. If they mistakenly attack a Japanese organization, they will be accused of violating the law and face various consequences.”

 

***

 

After Russia began its invasion, some Japanese citizens joined the IT Army. It appears some participants want to “help Ukraine” but others are “just jumping on the bandwagon.”

 

A man in his 20s who works as an engineer at an IT firm registered on the special channel on Telegram at the end of February. He says, “I can’t go to the battleground, but I thought there is a role I can play in cyberspace.” He developed a program to make servers crash by sending a massive amount of data and then began launching cyberattacks himself based on the information on the internet.

 

Launching cyberattacks while at work 

 

He later learned about “IT Army of 5ch” and joined the group. He says he is conducting cyberattacks while working from home or commuting to work.

 

He is not personally acquainted with other members of the group. He usually communicates with them via the OpenChat service on Line. He said, “I think many members of the group are just jumping on the bandwagon.”

 

The Asahi Shimbun asked the seven interviewees about when they will end their involvement in cyberattacks. Many of them said via the chat function, “I’ll continue until the war ends.” But there was one person who wrote, “I’ll quit when I get bored.”

 

Average Russian citizens suffer in cyberattacks

 

Keio University Professor Tsuchiya Motohiro, an expert on security and cyberwarfare, says: “[The invasion of Ukraine] is the first war where smartphones and social networking sites [SNS] are used. It made me realize the dynamism built into Ukraine’s cyberspace strategies.” He went on to say: “Internet connection and electricity are available [in Ukraine] even in time of war. [Ukraine] must have made a lot of advance preparations, including protecting its infrastructure.”

 

The IT Army may also be one of Ukraine’s strategies. But Tsuchiya is not sure about the effectiveness of cyberattacks from Japan. “It is average Russian citizens who suffer when websites fail.” (Abridged)

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