Slava Banik and his team created the IT Army of Ukraine.
Samuel Schumacherforeign reporter
The attacks of his army hit Russia far behind the front line, the attacks of his major offensive are aimed directly at the people in Putin’s empire: Slava Banik (32), chief developer at the Ministry for Digital Transformation, is Ukraine’s unofficial hacker boss. The more than 300,000 volunteers of the IT Army of Ukraine do not directly listen to his orders. The tips and tools from Banik’s office make their fight possible in the first place.
“Life in Russia is supposed to be really uncomfortable. The Russian people should feel the war so that they don’t get away scot-free.”Slava Banik
In the Ukraine war, there is not only fighting in Bakhmut and around Cherson, but also in digital space. “This is the first cyber war in the history of this planet,” says Banik. In a cafeteria in Davos GR, he tells us about his mission: “Life in Russia is supposed to be really uncomfortable. The Russian people should feel the war and not think that they will get away with it scot-free,” explains the young man in the black hoodie.
In 2019, the former digital marketing entrepreneur came to the newly created Ministry for Digital Transformation. Its goal: Abolish the bureaucracy in Ukraine and make all state obligations and services accessible with just a few clicks – from filing tax returns to marriages or founding a company.
Half the world is hacking along
But then the war came and turned everything upside down. “Hardly any other country has as many IT specialists as in the Ukraine,” says Banik. His team recognized their potential and launched the IT Army of Ukraine. Since then, hundreds of thousands of anonymous volunteers have joined the cyber army and fight against Vladimir Putin (70) and his henchmen around the clock from their cold rooms and rocket bunkers. There are, of course, similar groups on the Russian side. But their attacks have so far been less violent than Kyiv feared at the beginning of the war.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks have proven to be particularly efficient for the Ukrainian IT army. Computer users flood a specific website with massive access requests until the system is overloaded and collapses. It is not only Ukrainians who are involved. The IT army’s English-language Telegram account, which is used by all those who do not speak Ukrainian, has almost as many followers as the original account.
They even cracked Putin’s website
On the one hand, the digital soldiers targeted Russian companies and institutions: This week, for example, they paralyzed part of the Russian Regional Development Bank and prevented its customers from being able to pay with their bank cards. Three days after the outbreak of war, they even managed to briefly hack Putin’s official website. “Everything is under attack.” When Banik smiles, his silver braces flash in the harsh cafeteria light. And there is always reason to smile for him.
Only recently, the hackers of the IT army managed to crash the Russian YouTube «Rutube». Again and again they successfully attack news portals and television stations and spread pro-Ukrainian reports. “Far too many Russians support this war. So they should also feel it, »says Banik. The calculus behind it: If the people are seething with anger, Putin cannot hold his own. Then there are chances for peace.
How the “civilian secret service” works
But the hacker attacks are only one side of the digital warfare with which Ukraine – so far mostly outside the media stage – wants to make Russia give up. The other side: Possibly the first “civilian secret service” in human history, as Banik calls it. Anyone in Ukraine can use the “eBopor” (digital enemy) app to report suspicious sightings: if they see Russian positions somewhere, see a Putin fighter jet or observe anything else strange.
“That’s the jackpot.” 450,000 reports have come in since the beginning of the war – anonymously and at lightning speed. “Each report is checked by a team of specialists and then forwarded directly to the army,” explains the chief hacker. “Such a tool could have decided many a war earlier.”
And what when the war is over? Will the IT army fighters stick to a possible peace agreement? “We’ll see about that,” says Banik. “First we have to win, otherwise all our pretty digital tools would be for nothing.”