Cyber Market Pulse with eosedge Legal:  The Guard Rails are Gone

The White Hat Hacker, or researcher, has typically been credentialed as a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).  White Hats probe information systems to improve network resilience.  With the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war, the White Hat has taken on a worrisome role.  That’s because many are answering the call to choose sides and take up cyber-arms against an adversary.  With this war, there have been plenty of warnings about spillover effects from dangerous malware released into the wild (e.g., wiper malware deployed in Ukraine detected next in Lithuania and Latvia).  Not to minimize such a substantial threat, but what about the spawning of a lawless, vigilante hacking culture?  Recently, a published list of hacking groups engaged in hybrid warfare was released. 

Produced by Cyberknow , the growing list raises the specter of an unbridled lawlessness across the cyber domain.  A review of this list of aligned hacking groups reveals:

  • Anonymous, the global activist group with decentralized organization and distributed participants
  • Sandworm and Conti gangs, Russian cyberattack groups that have been prolific in ransomware and wiperware attacks
  • IT Army of Ukraine, a recently formed group that has called for global volunteers
  • 35 new hacking groups just formed in 2022 in response to the geopolitical situation
  • Groups based in multiple countries, including US, UK, Switzerland, France, Georgia, Belarus, and of course Russia and Ukraine, plus many undisclosed locations

The lawless state of cyberspace was alarming prior to this call to action.  Now, however, the nature of the lawlessness has changed.  Private parties are attacking governments and critical infrastructure, in some cases looking to destroy systems.       

Aside from the issue of whether these entities constitute a levee en masse and lawful combatants under the law of armed conflict, there is a broader concern about whether this is the opening of Pandora’s box?  On social media and traditional media there have been reports of successful hacks of sensitive government departments by hacker groups.  Anonymous, for example, has claimed to have “shut down” Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.  The ramifications of destabilizing attacks by private parties can be calamitous!  Moreover, nation-states are required to enforce treaties and international law within their geographic borders.  Allowing piracy or lawlessness which harms other nations is not permitted.   

Granted, the legal justification of necessity arguably applies under these geopolitical circumstances.  Moreover, the point of this writing is not to ignore the realities of today’s geopolitical landscape, human rights, sovereignty, or the many ambiguities with the application of law in cyberspace.  Indeed this author, mirroring others’ analysis, has written about ways for government to credential private actors in support of a government cyber function, linked here.  The point here is to illustrate with a real-world situation how important it is for governments to address this new extension of the role of White Hats, and the risk of a widening range of malicious activities and actors in cyberspace.  Additionally, for companies already taking note of “Shields Up” warnings from government, there is no better time than now to get Cyber Ready in 2022.  There’s not just a proliferation of malware, there’s also the growth of organized hacking groups determined to inflict harm on their perceived adversaries. 

eosedge Legal is the trusted partner to the IR Global membership for cyberlaw and security services.  The Cyber Market Pulse is a recurring feature concerning risks and opportunities in cyberspace.

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