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Cyber warfare: account of a US combatant in Ukraine

In an interview given to Numerama, an American veteran who joined the Ukrainian Army describes the digital technology used on the front

On July 5, 2023, Numerama published an interview with a US combat veteran who goes by “Sumer”, and who fought alongside the Ukrainian Army. He describes the role digital technology plays on the battlefield. The Ukrainian government estimates that 20,000 fighters from around the world are currently serving with the Ukrainian Foreign Legion.

In particular, Sumer insists on the interception of enemy coms, “an essential task” according to him. “We use a number of techniques to intercept exchanges, sometimes with cyber tools on computers and smartphones. We look for targets and we manage to set traps and infiltrate their networks,” explains the US veteran.

Some individuals are monitored for months; we then analyze their movements to pinpoint strategic areas. We also use StingRays (IMSI-catcher), a sort of surveillance box that acts as a cellphone tower and forces a connection with the phones,” adds Sumer.

The Ukrainian Army also makes use of more traditional intelligence techniques: Sumer mentions intercepting radio communications and human intelligence, “thanks to infiltrators who are close to the Russian Army.”

The American soldier adds that Starlink communication kits, provided by SpaceX, are little used as operational tools on the frontline. However, they allow Ukrainian soldiers to communicate with their family and friends, and are thus vital for morale.

Finally, Sumer says that when they stripped down Russian digital equipment recovered from the front, they found “almost nothing Russian.” The majority of components came from China or Hong Kong, but some were made in the West, and probably purchased on the black market.

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