Hacking Ukraine: Govt retreats after massive cyber-siege

Hackers vs Ukraine: Two-day siege on state a triumph
Ukrainian government websites have suffered a two-day cyber attack after the authorities closed a popular file-sharing service. The police have withdrawn the blocking order, but their investigation into alleged piracy is very much ongoing.

Users lost access to dozens of official websites in Ukraine after they came under attack on Tuesday. Websites belonging to the president, the government, Ukraine’s security service, the national bank, and the interior ministry were among those affected.

The cyber offensive was fuelled by thousands of internet users trying to protect the popular file-sharing service, EX.ua. The site, which is similar in function to Megaupload.com, was closed by the authorities on Tuesday.

Ukrainian police allege that the site was involved in online piracy. The interior ministry searched EX.ua offices and seized some 200 servers containing more than 6,000 terabytes of data.

The move triggered an instant tsunami of anger among Ukrainian internet users which quickly spilled over in a series of hacker attacks on the government. According to sources in the movement, the virtual siege involved about 500 IT professionals and hundreds of thousands of ordinary users who flooded the websites with requests in a bid to force them offline.

The attackers were prepared to seek help from the hacktivist group Anonymous, reports the news website Ukrainian Pravda, citing a letter received from one of the hackers involved in the situation.

“We are expecting big help from our comrades in the USA. We are also in talks with  Anonymous. They are busy ‘working’ in Poland at the moment, and as far as I know they are screwing up things for PayPal. But we hope they can back us. We are also hoping to receive support from colleagues in Turkey,” the message, delivered on Thursday, read.

The online protest movement even won some support from the opposition Communist party. One of its leaders, Vladimir Danilenko, asked the General Prosecutor’s office to investigate whether police seizure of the site was legal. He also argued that public outrage was in part caused by the fact that the police acted on a request from the US State Department and copyright holders.

As the cyberwar raged on, Ukrainian police recalled their blocking order on EX.ua, admitting that it was premature. It stressed, however, that the investigation into suspected piracy is still underway.

“The criminal case was not shelved, the investigation continues. It’s just that the investigator in charge sees no reasons for the site to be blocked at the moment,” an interior ministry statement said.

EX.ua said its lawyers had settled things, and the site’s domain name is again under the control of its administrators. As of Friday, the site is back online, but a warning message said not all stored files were available.

Meanwhile, the hacker attack appears to be continuing, despite EX.ua asking its supporters for a ceasefire. Many activists fear their victory may be temporary and are threatening to take to the streets if their favorite site is shut down again.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s cyber security service says it is monitoring the hacking activities and collecting the IP addresses of users who took part in the attack, which it said could be considered a breach of the national criminal code.

In January, the global Internet community participated in several high-profile actions aimed at protecting online freedoms. Thousands of websites went black in a bid to stop the SOPA/PIPA anti-piracy bills from passing the US Congress. Anonymous launched an attack on American law enforcement agencies following the closure of the Megaupload.com file-sharing website. And in Poland, thousands of people took to the streets against a controversial trade agreement ACTA.