Tech to the Rescue: Helping Save Ukraine

The technology has helped fend off Russian cyberattacks and disinformation attacks. He kept Ukraine’s financial and communication channels open while helping Ukrainian refugees.

The success comes after years of smearing the technology, heartfelt complaints about online hate speech and concerns about privacy threats. Tech faces tough questions about his complicity in Myanmar’s attacks on minorities and its role in amplifying toxic lies which led to the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

But the Ukrainian experience shows that the real danger to democracy does not come from an unfettered Internet; rather, it comes from the growing threat of an authoritarian online takeover that allows unchecked surveillance and censorship. As the CEPA report on the New iron curtain details, Russia is moving in this direction, depriving its population of accurate information and moving towards total dictatorship.

On the other hand, technology has helped build Ukraine’s resilience. Start with cyber defense. Large-scale Russian cyberattacks in 2015 and 2016 crippled Kyiv’s energy grid, forcing Ukraine to move much of its most crucial data to the cloud and outside the country. On February 23, a day before Russian tanks arrived in Ukraine, the Kremlin launched a major cyber offensive, deploying FoxBlade malware to target the Ukrainian government.

The attack failed. Ukraine, together with private technology companies and Western intelligence services, fixed most damage. Microsoft provided licenses and services to organizations in Ukraine to move threatened software services to the cloud.

When the Russians attempted to cut the Ukrainian front line from the global internet, technology kept the lines of communication open. Ukrainian troops used Elon Musk’s Starlink low-orbit satellites to stay in contact with headquarters (Starlink and USAID donated 5,000 terminals). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used the channel to broadcast to the world via YouTube.

Technology has kept Ukraine’s financial lifeline open. Like the government, Ukrainian banks stored most of their data outside the country and online banking continued to work. ATMs continued to operate. The Ukrainian government has even raised $54.73 million in donations of cryptocurrency such as bitcoin in the first month after the invasion after posting appeals on social media.

The Russian invasion forced millions of Ukrainians to flee. Home rental company Airbnb responded with offer free and temporary housing for up to 100,000 refugees. Some 80 EU mobile operators Free free international calls to Ukraine, the distribution of more than 2.5 million SIM cards to Ukrainian refugees between March and May 15, and the establishment of Wi-Fi hotspots near refugee camps.

Along with helping Ukraine, Western technology has suppressed Russia. Western tech companies have removed all advertising to ensure that no one can profit from activity on their apps. The most restricted access to Russian state-run RT and Sputnik outlets in Europe and in some cases globally, and their apps have been banned from app stores. Some have pulled their businesses out of Russia while resisting, as best they can, attempts by the Kremlin to censor independent voices and news. VPN Program Sales have flown away in Russia.

The online battlefield is far from won. A desperate Russia could yet respond with more indiscriminate cyberattacks. He is already stepping up his propaganda attempts, spreading everything from anti-vaccine content to lies about election security.

Yet our best response to these lies is not to strangle the free and open Internet. We do not want – and it is not in our interest – to imitate Russia and impose an Internet iron curtain. The Chinese authoritarian model is not to be imitated either; our best defense against tyranny is to allow free and unfettered access to independent information.

Democratic regulation must take security into account. As former Estonian president. Toomas Ilves recently told me, all legislation in the United States and Europe must be reviewed for its effects on the climate. However, in terms of safety, there is no revision of the legislation, which is a fundamental shortcoming.

As the Ukrainian experience teaches us, technology can play an important role in protecting the free world. But of course, this cannot be enough. Wars are not only fought online; armies must achieve victory in the field using physical weapons, cannons, artillery and tanks.

Bill Echikson is Acting Director of CEPA’s Digital Innovation Initiative and Editor-in-Chief of Bandwidth.

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