Russia's Latest Communication Issue in Ukraine may be a Phone Relay Capture

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Ukraine’s Security Service (abbreviated as SBU) claims to have apprehended a hacker who was assisting Russian troops in providing telecommunication services within Ukrainian territory, according to VICE.

Around 10 a.m., the SBU sent out a Tweet and a Telegram message with the information. film purporting to show the hacker and his communications system was released around 4 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET), albeit the information has not been independently authenticated.

Highlights

According to a Telegram message from the SBU, the hacker was assisting in the routing of calls from Russia to Russian troops in Ukraine, as well as texting Ukrainian security personnel and officials asking to surrender.

A suspected hacker’s computer workstation in support of Russian military in Ukraine.

Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian Security Service on Twitter.

The SBU’s images purport to depict the gear and software used in these activities, and they appear to be compatible with a voice and SMS relay system.

Cathal Mc Daid, CTO of Adaptive Mobile Security, explained the devices used and their importance in a tweet thread. The system, according to Mc Daid, had a SIM box server that could switch between 128 distinct SIM cards, GSM gateways to link voice calls and SMS messages to a local mobile network, and unknown software to manage messaging and call forwarding.

What’s New?

These technologies, according to Mc Daid, are unreliable and should not be used for military communications.

Russian military fighting in Ukraine now appear to be using civilian-grade unsecure communications gear. Messages transferred between Russian military units have been intercepted by Ukrainian security forces multiple times since the invasion began, a feat made feasible by the lack of encryption in Russian communications.

Russian troops reportedly hampered their own capacity to utilize encrypted telephone handsets by demolishing local 3G and 4G antennas, disabling the mobile data networks that the phones rely on, at the commencement of the invasion.

What’s More?

Because Russian military communications were unencrypted, Ukrainian intelligence services were able to intercept sensitive messages and, in some circumstances, broadcast them around the world, as was the case with claims of Russian General Vitaly Gerasimov’s death.

Social media footage from the war also reveals that Russian troops were utilizing unencrypted portable radios for battlefield communications in some circumstances.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has previously stated that it has distributed encrypted tactical radios to the majority of the Russian armed forces, but there are indications that the delivery of the radios was hampered by corruption, according to analysts from the Royal United Services Institute (a UK defense and security think tank).

Digging In More Details

The state of much of the Russian military’s heavy equipment appears to reflect the obsolete and poorly maintained nature of Russian communications devices, even as troops embark on critical military operations like the assault on Kiev.

According to reports from the battlefield, some Russian tank regiments are using Soviet-era T-72 vehicles, which were initially constructed more than 50 years ago.

Despite significant technical and logistical issues, Russian forces vastly outnumbered the Ukrainian army and showed no indications of relenting as the war entered a perilous new phase.

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