Ukrainian cybersecurity startups continue to hack into Russia from Portugal

Dozens of employees of Ukrainian cybersecurity startup Hacken fled their war-torn country and found refuge some 3,000 kilometers away in Portugal. They were able to keep their business alive and help launch cyber attacks against Russia.

Reflecting on the drastic measures adopted by millions of Ukrainians aimed at escaping danger and maintaining their livelihoods despite the Kremlin’s onslaught, the company moved its headquarters from kyiv to Lisbon, made between two. For Dmytro Boudorin, Hacken’s chief executive, keeping his company active in the fast -growing cryptosecurity market means pushing his employees to flee before the bombs start to rain.

“How would I feel, how would I look my employees in the eye if by chance and way and knowing that there could be a disaster, we didn’t try to evacuate everyone? he says.

Hacken, a company born five years ago, tests blockchain -based projects to track down any security flaws. It employs approximately 80 controllers, developers and other crypto specialists. Many are contributing to the war effort by finding vulnerabilities in Ukrainian and Russian computer systems and reporting them to the Ministry of Digital Transformation or National Security and Defense Council in Kyiv, said Mr Budorin, 35.

“In the conflict in Ukraine, many of the standards and rules governing the conduct of non-state actors, or even companies, have now disappeared”

Liberator, an app developed by Hacken that allows users to lend computing power to denial of service attacks targeting Russian propaganda sites, has been downloaded over 100,000 times. The company is also involved in targeted efforts against Russian companies, including an attempt to pressure suppliers into army shoe makers, Budorin said.

Non-state actors on both sides are also fighting low-impact cyberattacks. Those who reach Russian targets are subject to very few controls, despite the willingness of Washington and Brussels in recent years to set international standards to limit this type of activity, explains Stefan Soesanto, cyberdefense researcher. at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

“In the conflict in Ukraine, many of the norms and rules governing the conduct of non-state actors, or even companies, have now disappeared,” he added.

For Mr. Boudorin, the attacks made by Hacken must be considered from the angle of the struggle of good against evil. “Now is not the time to be scared,” he said.

Hacken’s trip to Europe began on February 14, when Western officials warned that a Russian invasion was imminent. Some employees do not believe such an attack is possible, but at a meeting at the Hacken offices, located in a former Russian military factory in central kyiv, company officials advised the team to work. elsewhere in two weeks. They told themselves that this move was temporary, Mr. Boudorin explained. The company gave $ 4,000 to employees who left the country and $ 2,000 to those who stayed but moved to another region.

The next day, Yevguéniia Brochevane, the director of business development, boarded a plane with colleagues bound for Barcelona. Others have traveled to Turkey, Austria or western Ukraine. Nine days later, the Russian invasion began. At that time, there were several dozen Hacken employees left in the country, to fight the bombings and sporadic communication disruptions.

“After all of that, we realized how lucky we were that we made this decision early on,” Ms. commented. Brochevane.

Hacken officials divided the company into two teams to make sure it stays focused amid a flood of alerts about the Russian invasion and Telegram exchanges from family and friends.

“We are all just waiting for Ukraine to win this war”

One of the teams manages the company’s core activity which aims to impose itself more broadly on the cryptosecurity market and develop subscription software that should be sold within the year. One is engaged in counter-offensive against Russia, the organization estimated.

For Denys Ivanov, 35, Hacken’s chief operating officer, his team’s expertise is best used by making money to help Ukraine, in addition to contributing to the digital war effort, which is ‘taking of weapon. This idea helps him overcome his sense of guilt at leaving the country during the Russian invasion.

“The feeling of being safe is very hard to deal with,” Mr. Ivanov said.

He and his wife first went to Spain without their two children, who remained in Ukraine with his parents. Four days after the start of the war, Mr Ivanov flew to Bucharest, Romania, from where he took buses and taxis to the Moldova border where he went on foot to find his parents on the Ukrainian border. . He then drove back to Barcelona with his two children aged six and seven, which took him three days. Her parents remained at home in the Odessa region, far from the fiercest fighting.

Hacken executives are now organizing for the long term. Office rent and the cost of living in Spain are too high, last month the company moved to Lisbon.

On reconnaissance, Mr. Ivanov sent housing videos to his colleagues and rented about 20 apartments on their behalf. The company provides an additional 500 euros to its employees each month for their installation.

Hacken continues to grow, both in terms of revenue and employees, while severing relationships with its Russian customers who refuse to denounce the war, explains Mr. Boudorin, the general manager. The company makes about $ 1 million in revenue a month and is profitable, he says. Recruiting new employees has become easier than expected, as a large part of Ukraine’s tech workforce is unemployed. The World Bank estimates that the Ukrainian economy will contract by 45% this year.

While adjusting to his new life working with his colleagues in an office in Lisbon that he describes as “comfortable”, Mr. Ivanov, the chief operating officer, reports trying to save on food and others. more expenses to pay for the education of his children and send money to five. members of his family at home.

“We are all just waiting for Ukraine to win this war,” he concludes. “And we all think it will be our duty to go back and try to rebuild.»

(Translated from the original English version by Bérengère Viennot)

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