Things are not going well for the Ukrainian Information Army. Only 10 days after it rallied its troops against the phantom menace and unleashed an attack of the clones, it had to face the revenge of the hackers. CyberBerkut, the Ukrainian hacker group opposed to the current government managed to crash the Information Army's website for several hours on Thursday, breaking through its CloudFlare protection and also released a few embarrassing emails revealing the Army's internal practices.
Here is the story of the Ukrainian Information Army so far:
1. The Phantom Menace: Ukraine Rallies its Troops
2. Attack of the Clones: The Disastrous LifeNews Offensive
One of the first methodical guides sent out by the Information Army was a guide on creating clone accounts. The guide told Internet warriors to register a new email and use it to create social media accounts with Russian names and profile pictures, completely filled out profiles and at least 10 friends. A second guide gave a list of arguments to use in arguments against Russian users, which it called Kremlin bots and trolls:
"More than anything Russians fear Ukrainian success. Every successful reform makes them think that Ukraine is becoming strong. Because of that, any positive changes, government decisions and innovations have to be actively shared and discussed in discussions with trolls."
Unfortunately for Stets, the attack on the Russian tabloid LifeNews, which began on February 25, coincided with the collapse of the Ukrainian currency, so understandably, many Ukraine-related articles on LifeNews were about Ukraine's economic problems and its declining standard of living. As a result, the rather mundane article "Kiev Stores Limit Sales of Grains, Flour and Sugar," which cited Ukrainian media, became the third most-discussed article on the website.
A few days later, attacks ceased and instead of assignments, the Information Army began sending lists of articles from Ukrainian media, telling subscribers to "Share this information in social networks among your friends and acquaintances."
3. Revenge of the Hacker: CyberBerkut Reveals Army's Father
On Thursday, CyberBerkut hacked the Ukrainian Information Army and disclosed emails which from the project which showed that it was facing problems from the beginning. A member of the project, Artem Bidenko emailed the team:
"Aren't we afraid that our assignments will be leaked and analyzed in detail on LifeNews and Russia-24?
Do you understand that IO [information operations] and PSYOPs [psychologial operations] are called that because they are not disclosed in terms of assignments or the source/client?
To not even mention that bloggers and the Internet community will just laugh at out non-professionalism."
The hacker group also found the project's organizers, including blogger Oleksandr Baraboshko, who brags about meeting the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt on his Instagram, among less-flattering photos:
CyberBerkut then pulled the Information Army's site down, which made the team issue a rebuttal through the third-party mass-email service GetResponse, which CyberBerkut did not manage to hack.
"As you can see, we are alive, well and on the line," the message read. The website came back online several hours later.
4. A New Hope?
Following the failure of the project, the Information Army is not losing hope. After a (fake) Twitter account of Crimean prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya wished her followers a good morning in Ukrainian, the Information Army appears to have decided that she has joined their side (or was "hacked").
The Information Army has also opened an English version of its website in addition to the Ukrainian one, suggesting that a second wave of mobilization may soon be underway.