Ukraine to tech companies: Please get out of Russia faster

Ukraine to tech companies: Please get out of Russia faster

Placeholder while article actions load

Hello again, 202 readers! I’m now The Post’s technology policy reporter, but in a previous life, I anchored The Technology 202 and sometimes filled in on The Cybersecurity 202. It’s great to start Friday with you. Joe Marks will be back next week! There won’t be a newsletter Monday, so we’ll see you Tuesday.

Tech companies could wind down business in Russia faster, Ukrainian official says

A Ukrainian government official is ramping up pressure on major tech companies to more quickly wind down business in Russia in the wake of the atrocities in Bucha. 

Alex Bornyakov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, said during a Post Live interview on Tuesday that major tech companies including Microsoft, IBM, Intel and SAP made big announcements about limiting business operations in Russia in the wake of the country’s invasion into Ukraine. But he says the companies have not reacted quickly enough to the war, and that they’re “still in process” of winding down business in Russia. 

In light of the mounting evidence that Russian soldiers brutally tortured and killed civilians in Bucha, Bornyakov said his office is making a new push to the companies to pull out of Russia more quickly. 

  • “It’s just unspeakable,” Bornyakov said. “You can see now that if you continue this business with them, this is what they do with your money. With having your technologies, they supply their army with equipment. … And I think that that works because now people see for real what those animals are doing.”
“To be fair, almost all of them just said, ‘Yeah, we’re moving out.’ But unfortunately, some of them just made an announcement but didn’t really act. For example, IBM, Intel, SAP and companies like Microsoft they are still in a process. They announced and what we see is they’re not really moving anywhere…Maybe they pretend, maybe this is real but what we see is that some of them not reacting really quickly.”- Alex Bornyakov (Video: Washington Post Live, Photo: Washington Post Live)

The push is part of a broader strategy that Ukrainian officials are calling a “digital blockade,” an effort to economically and digitally isolate Russia from the rest of the world. Ukrainian officials have called the conflict “World Cyberwar I,” and it’s part of their strategy of fighting offensively on the digital front while defending against Russian troops on the ground. 

Bornyakov said the idea emerged in the days after the invasion in February after he and his colleagues came to believe that Russia wanted to “completely destroy” Ukraine. As the ministry focused on economic development and digital projects, they realized they could use their existing connections with major tech companies to inflict pain on the Russian economy and limit the spread of Russian propaganda. 

  • “If you want to survive, you have to act,” he said. “You can’t just lay down.”

Since then, he and his team, led by 31-year-old Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, have been working around-the-clock. Bornyakov says weekends no longer exist for his team, and the onset of the war — less than two months ago — seems like a “distant memory.” He’s motivated to keep working as he sees the Russians destroy years-long investments in roads, hospitals and businesses with tanks and shelling. 

Tech companies have made multiple announcements about their efforts to wind down operations in Russia:

  • Microsoft said in a March blog post that it would suspend all new sales of products and services in Russia. It has also been offering assistance in defending against cyberattacks.
  • Intel announced Tuesday, the same day as the Bornyakov interview, that it would suspend its operations in Russia. The company said it was working to support its 1,200 employees who live there.
  • SAP announced on March 24 that it would shut down its cloud operations in Russia, after announcing in early March that it would stop product sales to the country.  “As we discussed directly with the Ukrainian leaders, we are continuing our structured wind-down in Russia and look forward to our future R&D center in Ukraine,” said SAP spokeswoman Joellen Perry
    in a statement. “In shutting down our cloud operations, we are working quickly to expedite a process that under normal circumstances would be planned a year or more in advance and require multiple quarters to execute.”
  • IBM said it suspended all new and exiting business in Russia on March 7, and that many activities stopped before that date. “This suspension covers all IBM goods, parts, software, services, consulting and technology delivered to Russian clients worldwide,” said company spokeswoman Ashley Bright. 

As Ukraine mounts an economic assault against Russia, Bornyakov also told me that they’re constantly defending against digital attacks from Russia. He said that they’ve experienced more than 3,000 cyberattacks. 

  • “Can you imagine this volume?,” he said. “So they’re instantly attacking us.”

He wouldn’t go into detail about many of the attacks, saying that information about them was largely classified. Ukrainian officials reported last month that a Russian cyberattack temporarily knocked out service at the Internet provider Ukrtelecom. 

Overall, the attacks have been smaller and less destructive than many experts had expected. Bornykaov said that’s in part because Ukraine has long been defending itself from Russia on the cyber front.

  • “They were attacking us instantly throughout all these years, and we figured out how to defend ourselves,” he said. “But the scale and the pressure, of course, after February 24th, it’s much, much more.”

Microsoft disrupts Russian hackers targeting Ukrainian, U.S. and European organizations

Microsoft took control of Internet domains used by a group of Russian military spy hackers to target Ukrainian media organizations as well as government institutions and think tanks in the United States and Europe, it said. A court authorized the company to take control of the domains on Wednesday, Microsoft said.

The Strontium hacking group, which Microsoft said was behind the campaign, is better known as Fancy Bear. The U.S. government has accused the group of being a Russian military intelligence unit and has said that it was responsible for some of the Kremlin’s election interference campaigns.

“We believe Strontium was attempting to establish long-term access to the systems of its targets, provide tactical support for the physical invasion and exfiltrate sensitive information,” Microsoft said. “We have notified Ukraine’s government about the activity we detected and the action we’ve taken.”

China emerges as potent outlet for Russian disinformation

Russia’s success in getting out misleading narratives through proxies and allies has cast doubt on the ability of tech giants and Western governments to rein in authoritarian propaganda, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports.

Chinese officials and state-controlled channels don’t face the same restrictions as Russian state-controlled media, said Bret Schafer, senior fellow and head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan initiative housed at the U.S. German Marshall Fund that tracks Chinese and Russian state media. “This has allowed the Kremlin to effectively skirt bans meant to limit the spread of Russian propaganda,” he said.

They also have a massive viewership. On Facebook alone, Chinese outlets have over 1 billion followers, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy — far more than the roughly 85 million total followers that Russia’s main channels have.

Asked about how it was addressing the issue, Facebook shared examples of fact-checks on misleading pro-Russian content from Chinese state media. It didn’t respond to questions about whether it had restricted Chinese state media accounts or plans to do so.

Schumer tees up confirmation vote for surveillance critic Bedoya at FTC

Alvaro Bedoya‘s confirmation cleared a key procedural hurdle Thursday, but the Senate concluded business and headed into a two-week break before taking a final vote on his nomination. The confirmation of Bedoya and Gigi Sohn, who President Biden nominated to be a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, would break partisan deadlocks that have limited the ability of Democrats on the FCC and FTC to implement their ambitious tech agenda.

Bedoya’s nomination faces Republican opposition. Last week, Vice President Harris broke a 50-to-50 tie in the Senate to advance his nomination. That came weeks after the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14 to 14 along party lines to advance his nomination to the Senate floor.

Bedoya has spearheaded research into how the government’s use of facial recognition software and surveillance technology hurt marginalized groups. And as a Senate staffer, Bedoya was a key driver of privacy and surveillance as public-interest issues, Drew Harwell reports.

Facial recognition goes to war (The New York Times)

Suspected Chinese hackers are targeting India’s power grid (CyberScoop)

Outrage after EU signs mega-deal with UK firm to handle confidential data (Politico Europe)

US brings foreign banks into intelligence-sharing fold (Financial Times)

Private sector player urges DOD to screen 5G technology for cybersecurity (NextGov)

Obama says he underestimated the threats posed by disinformation (CyberScoop)

FIN7 hacker sentenced to five years (CyberScoop)

  • Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs and lawmakers speak at a disinformation conference hosted by the University of Chicago and the Atlantic today.
  • Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stacey A. Dixon speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday at noon. 

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.