Belarus’s autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, now fears he has created a monster.
An army of 30,000 tech-savvy professionals is pitted against its creator. Coders and software engineers, many of whom are associated with state-sponsored high-tech parks in Minsk, have formed a hacking collective called CyberPartitions trying to extinguish the growing revolution as Lucashenko.
Thousands of Belarusians have been arrested since the August presidential election, which was condemned by foreign observers. Opposition leaders claim that Lukashenko was ousted from power amid heavy demonstrations against the brutal quarter of a century in power.
Hundreds of those arrested were beaten and attacked, some were also allegedly raped and killed in prison. Lukashenko has tried to emulate his colleague President Putin’s iron grip on dissent.
Over the weekend, cyber participants hacked the website of the national state media organization, the Belarusian TV and radio company, and showed 30 minutes of footage of security forces using violent force against protesters instead of the usual state news. “The guy who made it is the real hero,” the hackers told the Daily Beast. “They took about a week to prepare everything. He was a few days without sleep. ”
This was just the latest act of online civil disobedience.
Over the past three months, a common scene on the streets of Minsk – often in broad daylight – is the image of a desperate citizen dragged by masked men into a plain police vehicle, kicking and screaming, often in plain clothes. Violent violence and aggression leave the majority of people nominal and faceless. Abuses and crimes committed against the population were likely to go without consequence – until now.
In a small office in central Warsaw, Yan Verbitzky, who works for NEXTA, an independent, anti-Lukashenko media organization, praised a spreadsheet on his computer that he recently purchased from hackers full of personal details from the Belarusian police Was. “We want to convey that they will not hide behind masks and remain anonymous in their atrocities.” Humbling himself in Russian, he describes the best way to present the list to the public and declares that he has no sympathy for those he is about to unmask.
“NOBODY STAYS ANONYMOUS,” the message was eventually sent to two million Belarusians. It came at the beginning of a post issuing the names, addresses, dates of birth and car registrations of 12 senior OMON police officers accused of violence against civilians in Belarus. The OMON is a special unit of police, which is seen, armed with sticks, batons and chilli sprays, and the countrymen regularly see cruel and disturbing photographs.
Attempts were made to remove individual officers behind attacks on civilians earlier. 73-year-old Nina Bahuskaya, a prominent activist from Belarus, is shown in a balletclav worn by police to expose their faces. Before the hack, there was no way to do this on a wide scale.
On 16 August, NEXTA, which is outfitted with the Polish capital, released the alleged identities of a dozen senior police officers via its channel NEXTA Live on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Since then, they have released more than 2,000 names. Yan said:[Lukashenko] Not able to ensure the security of their own minions data. ”
NEXTA has played a huge role in the revolution. With an increasing number of more than two million people, they release hundreds of videos and pictures every day depicting police brutality towards civilians. Demonstrators also look to them for directions where to converge for major demonstrations. All the time, these protests are remotely orchestrated. Their efforts have been effective in coordinating protesters and spreading abuses, but more was needed.
The cyber parties claim that the names of over 10,000 people involved in security services taken directly from the database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have been seized. He has shared this information with NEXTA in hopes of leaving more and more officers of Lukashenko to leave.
“We hope that the publication of the lists will encourage honest people who remain in the system to leave it and connect with people,” Verbitzky said. NEXTA says they have since received hundreds of police resignations, with more arriving each day.
It is impossible to say what prompted these resignations as many have already left in response to the government’s conduct. There have also been cases of riot police dropping their shields and being hugged by protesters for their disregard.
During an interview, a high-security encrypted messaging app was conducted on which one of the hackers, using the pseudonym “Yura”, reported that after violent clashes and continued harassment of witnesses since August, police and Decided to take action. “we have [the] There is a chance to do something and change something for our country right now, ”he said.
They reported that government data security was weak, and it took only a few hours to retrieve the identity, but since then Yura said, they have gone into “paranoia mode”. Not only in the streets, but also in cyberspace — to prevent further agreements to enhance their security measures.
The list of identities shared with NEXTA is a fraction of Belarus’ total police force, estimated to be anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000, but is made up primarily of senior officers and commanders in many branches of the internal security apparatus. Foot soldiers receive little attention since NEXTA’s claim, “The security forces themselves are also victims of this, they are being turned into criminals – and many who are going into service did not subscribe to the crime.”
The army of future hackers began to take shape in 2005 when Lukashenko signed a decree initiating the construction of a high-tech park in Minsk. Since then, it has developed into one of the country’s foremost economic powers. Software exports reached US $ 1 billion in 2017, and more than 27,000 software developers and engineers were set to work in the high-tech park alone.
The tech industry was then built from the ground up by Valeri Tsepalko, a former associate of Lucasenko and a former ambassador to Belarus to the United States. After kickstarting a Belarusian tech revolution following his success, Tsepalko fell out with Lukashenko and pitted against his becoming president in 2008.
When he was banned from running again and forced into exile earlier this year, his wife, Veronica Tsepakalo, assumed the post and led a contingent of prominent female leaders of a popular revolt against Lashchenko’s rule Became one of.
Speaking to his apartment in Warsaw, Valery Tsepalko told The Daily Beast that the tech industry and its highly trained staff had become “the strongest opponents of this regime”. He had no idea that a technical revolt against Lukashenko would be needed during the creation of this industry.
Now that the officers’ Ministry of Internal Affairs has been dissolved, Tsepakolo admitted that members of the security services had a difficult decision to make but called on them to follow and leave illegal orders. “We ask them to resign,” he said.
Total technical experts actively turning against the government are unclear. Yura said that by now there were about 50–100 cyber participants. Maybe more. This is only the beginning. “
Cyber participants do not work alone. He mentioned that there were other hacker groups, but there have been issues of working collectively as they need to be able to trust each other. Police are attempting to infiltrate these networks and it is impossible to share information between groups without a doubt.
Any kind of anti-government activity carries heavy sentences in Belarus, so Yura and his group are taking huge risks, “I understand my risks but I am trying not to think about it. We are trying to be more careful, ”he said.
Belarusian authorities have acknowledged the data breach and will not take it lightly. Ministry spokesperson Volha Chamadanav said, “Forces, tools and technologies for the disposal of internal affairs make it possible to identify and prosecute those guilty of leaking personal data on the Internet at the disposal of internal affairs bodies.”
This risk and the threat of retaliation is not stopping the group from continuing their work.
They intend to have more information about the police, including photos, social media profiles, email addresses, home addresses and telephone numbers, any information that would name and shame the police. They were close to acquiring the entire police database, but lost their chance and “are looking for a new one.” Yet data leaks are not the only method of their movement.
Looking ahead, Yura announces that he has no desire to become a full-time hacker and will continue his career in software engineering when Lucasenko is out for good. But, for now, this transfer of skills imposed for political use among the tech community appears to be another important string in the bow of the revolution with the mission of removing Lucasenko from power.
The security services of Belarus are important in this revolution and keep Lukashenko in power. They are well-paid, well-equipped and highly effective at suppressing any anti-Lukashenko, or pro-free election sentiments across the country, however minor or major.
“We warned you: you won’t be able to hide under Nelakwasa, Lukashenko,” confirmed Nexa.