Australian hackers taking the fight to Russia from their home country could find themselves in legal danger.
The global hacker collective Anonymous quickly declared a cyber war against Moscow last month when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
And the so-called hacktivists have claimed some successes not only against the Kremlin but also against the Russian Defense Department and the Space Agency.
Common methods include defacing websites, accessing and stealing information, or forcibly shutting down target sites and networks by flooding them with data.
Under Australian law, however, these hacking and denial-of-service attacks are offences.
Written to crack down on the most despicable cybercriminals, including those who share child exploitation material and use computers and networks for fraud, money laundering and identity theft, laws also cover pirates.
There are Commonwealth-specific “computer crimes” related to data hacking and interference with electronic communications.
“Individuals who undertake cybercrime activities from Australia, such as hacking against a foreign government entity, may be committing an offence,” an Home Affairs spokesperson told AAP.
The maximum penalty for unauthorized access or modification of restricted data is two years in prison, while unauthorized tampering with electronic communication could lead to 10 years in prison.
Ukraine wanted a blackout for Russia from central parts of the Internet.
But after an official request, the global body in charge of the domain name system, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, refused to take action against Russian websites.
Responding to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, ICANN said its mission does not extend to punitive actions, issuing sanctions or restricting access – no matter how provocative.
Instead, it allocated an initial A$1.4 million to support internet access for users in Ukraine.
Board Chairman Maarten Botterman said ICANN stands for a single, global, and neutral Internet that serves everyone in exercising basic human rights, including searching, receiving, and dissemination of information and ideas.
“This is especially critical when rapid access to information and communication can save lives,” he says.
Global giant Google says its Project Shield protection service is used by more than 150 Ukrainian websites to prevent Russian attacks.
The military – in the West and in Russia – has its own closed version of the internet and vital infrastructure, so shutting down parts of the public web would not necessarily hamper operations.
But an outage could restrict access to valuable open source intelligence, or OSINT, that is vital to all parties.
Images and data are shared on social networks, on encrypted messaging services or anonymously through the Tor browser which hides digital fingerprints.
“A growing number of people in Russia and Ukraine are using Tor to communicate, access information and circumvent censorship,” according to prominent hacker Runa Sandvik.
An analysis of network measurements shows that new blocks have been imposed in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Russian internet service providers began limiting access to Twitter days after the incursion and decided to block access to Twitter and Facebook on March 4, analysts Maria Xynou and Arturo Filasto found.
Their report, published by the Open Global Network Interference Observatory, shows that international news websites, as well as 200rf.com about Russian soldiers captured and killed in Ukraine, have been blocked as Russian censorship efforts intensify.
Multiple blocking technologies are used at the same time, making them harder to circumvent, they said.
Russia has also introduced harsher penalties – of up to 15 years in prison – for spreading false information about its military operations, discrediting its armed forces and supporting calls for anti-Russian sanctions.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced sanctions against Moscow’s “propagandists and purveyors of disinformation”.
“Tragically for Russia, President Putin has shut down independent voices and locked ordinary Russians into a world characterized by lies and misinformation,” she said.
Payne says this is meant to legitimize Russia’s unprovoked and unwarranted invasion with false narratives such as the “denazification” of Ukraine.
The Australian government is also working with Facebook, Twitter and Google to stop misinformation by Russian state media in Australia.
SBS and Foxtel have already announced the suspension of broadcasting of Russia Today and NTV.
Online streaming services Netflix and YouTube have also decided to remove Russian state channels. And
Anonymous also claimed some success.
“#Anonymous hacking collective hacked Russian streaming services Wink and Ivi (like Netflix) and live TV channels Russia 24, Channel One, Moscow 24 to broadcast war footage from Ukraine,” tweeted @ YourAnonNews.
Marine tracking data has been changed to rename Mr Putin’s yacht “FCKPTN” on digital screens.
Some 200 gigabytes of emails were allegedly stolen from Belarusian arms manufacturer Tetraedr and distributed by hacktivists.
Ukraine itself is assembling a volunteer “IT army” of civilian hackers from around the world to join the fight on a digital battlefield alongside regular conscription, tech publication Wired reported.
Meanwhile, researchers from private cybersecurity firm Proofpoint said they had identified a state-aligned Chinese hacking group targeting diplomats in Europe with malicious emails.
More recently, the account of a diplomat from a European NATO country working in migrant and refugee services was compromised and used to target other diplomatic offices.
The emails contained malicious links and decoy documents relating to border movements of Ukrainian refugees, with the aim of spreading malware called PlugX.
The threat actor identified as the Red Delta is known to be aligned with China and the pace of attacks has increased sharply since Russian troops began massing on the border.
Defense Minister Peter Dutton said he had seen reports that Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was providing support to Russia to keep its internet running to support hacker attacks around the world on infrastructure and services. naval and military resources of Russia.
Mr Dutton says he finds this “deeply concerning”.
“Every other responsible country in the world is looking for ways to sanction and stop trade with Russia to keep the pressure on President Putin to end these horrific acts of war crimes that we see committed by Russia right now,” he said. said.
But he doesn’t go so far as to support an army of hackers.
Nor will he disclose whether Australia has unleashed its offensive cyber capabilities or intends to do so.