Use of encrypted Telegram platform is increasing in Ukraine, Russia

Encrypted, cloud-based chat, voice-over-IP (VoIP) and video conferencing service Telegram is emerging as a key source of information for both Ukrainians and a growing anti-war Russian constituency as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine enters its eighth year Day goes, amid allegations of war crimes against humanity.

According to monitoring by Check Point Research, on Thursday, February 24 — the day the invasion began — there was a six-fold increase in war-themed Telegram groups. It said 71% of these groups distributed short messages containing raw information, 23% organized some degree of direct action by hacktivists against Russian targets, and 4% solicited cryptocurrency donations for Ukraine.

“Telegram has become a digital vanguard of the conflict of people choosing sides online,” said Oded Vanunu, Check Point’s head of product vulnerabilities research. “We see people from all corners of the world organizing and organizing resources to support either Russia or Ukraine.

“Some groups are coordinating cyber attacks on Russia. Other groups serve as information and news hubs to report on a raw side of the war. And other groups are requesting funds either to support Ukraine or to commit fraud.”

Vanunu added, “I strongly encourage people to keep a close eye on their Telegram activity and the types of people you may come into contact with. There is a page on Telegram that tries to take advantage of supporters of Ukraine or Russia. For now, we’re sharing what we see on Telegram and our first observations. We will continue to monitor Telegram activity over the coming weeks.”

Check Point said some of those groups — particularly those used by hacktivists — already have more than 250,000 users. Consisting of individual hackers, IT “fans” and even cyber security professionals, hacktivist groups are used to coordinate and target cyber attacks, with group members helping each other to carry out attacks, most commonly DDoS (Distributed Denial of services). , and share their results.

The smaller number of cryptocurrency fundraising groups tends to be scams, said Check Point, which warned users to stay away from these, though it found many examples involving tens of thousands of users.

“You are being deceived”

News and information groups, which make up the largest number of groups monitored by Check Point, are used by people in Ukraine and Russia to spread both accurate news and disinformation.

Flashpoint, which also tracks Telegram usage in the region, found several Telegram channels spreading pro-Russian messages, one of which had more than 180,000 subscribers. She had added a “z” to her name, which in context indicates pro-Russian sympathies, and included an anti-Ukrainian slur in her pinned message.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are using Telegram to share images and videos of peaceful resistance, Russian troop movements and possible war crimes. The Ukraine Witness channel, which as of March 1 had more than 100,000 subscribers, was very active in collecting such footage.

The group’s members are also reaching out to Russian soldiers and their families on the platform to share footage of suspected captured Russian personnel. One of those messages read: “Listen to your fellow captive citizens who are asking you to end the war. You are being deceived, you are being used.”

Telegram closely associated with the Russian opposition

Telegram was founded in 2013 by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov after they left their previous project, social network VK, claiming it was compromised by the Putin regime. They used the money from the sale of their stake in VK to develop Telegram, which is registered as a company in the British Virgin Islands and as an LLC in the United Arab Emirates, where it is now mostly based.

The platform is based on a proprietary symmetric encryption scheme called MTProto, developed by Nikolai and his development team, based on 2560-bit symmetric AES encryption, 2048-bit RSA encryption and Diffie-Hellman key exchange.

The service quickly gained popularity when it was launched and now has millions of users around the world attracted by its privacy features. It was used extensively in Belarus in 2020 by opposition activists to organize protests against the rigged elections that kept longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, himself a puppet of Vladimir Putin, in power.

However, as the Durovs have withstood pressure from the Russian government to keep Telegram free from oversight and usage, Telegram has become a viable alternative to social media platforms that regulate or censor content, or give in to government pressure to remove users from the remove platform. In Russia alone, it has a far larger presence than Twitter or Facebook, with a 2021 Deloitte study finding that up to 61% of Russians could be regular users.

While its high level of security is clearly a motivating factor behind its high level of adoption in Russia and more recently Ukraine, it has also been criticized for not having done enough to stop its use by Islamist terrorist organizations, neo-Nazis and other far-right activists child molester.

Be careful

If you decide to dip your toes into Telegram during the current war, be sure to follow standard cybersecurity precautions.

You should take special care not to click on suspicious or random links; Be alert to suspicious requests, especially if they affect your elevated emotional state; Think twice before donating money to unknown sources and instead look for well-known charities to donate to Ukraine; and check the sources of the news content you consume.

New Technology Era

One thought on “Use of encrypted Telegram platform is increasing in Ukraine, Russia

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