The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has released a “Geneva Convention” for hackers amid a rise in IT armies with conflict involvement, including in Ukraine.
The ICRC, responsible for monitoring and overseeing the rules of war, have warned of an unprecedented increase in the number of people joining ‘patriotic’ cyber gangs since Russia’s invasion.
With eight new rules announced, the organisation has banned attacks on hospitals and hacking tools that spread uncontrollably, alongside threats that spread terror among civilians.
The ICRC said that this kind of patriotic hacking is not a new phenomenon, making reference to pro-Syrian cyber attacks on Western media in 2013.
But it warned attacks were stepping up in line with cyber chaos in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, setting a dangerous precedent that was now spreading worldwide.
The war has already seen fake broadcasts sent from TV and radio stations, blurring the line between civilian and military hacking.
More recently, a “deep fake” replica of Vladimir Putin, created by artificial intelligence, told millions of Russian listeners that Ukraine had invaded Russia.
Announcing martial law, audiences were warned that the “hour of reckoning has come”, according to reports.
Another hack saw a team from the IT Army of Ukraine, a volunteer network with a Telegram group of 200,000 people, tap into a food production system.
The service – which requires all goods produced in Russia, including fresh food, to be scanned and registered – was taken offline, one hacker said.
Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade was forced to alter food labelling rules to enable the continued trading of perishables.
The hacker involved said the “economic losses were pretty high”.
Rule breaking ‘unavoidable’
Meanwhile, the Russian hacktivist gang Killnet has called for and carried out attacks on hospital websites in both Ukraine and allied countries.
Such pro-Russian groups have been accused of either working for or in connection with the Kremlin, a claim Killnet denies.
Already, some hackers have indicated that they plan to ignore the rules introduced by the ICRC.
A Killnet representative, with 90,000 followers on their Telegram channel, told BBC News: “Why should I listen to the Red Cross?”
A spokesman for Anonymous Sudan, a group targeting governments and businesses deemed critical of Sudan or Islam, told BBC News the new rules were “not viable and that breaking them for the group’s cause is unavoidable”.
Dr Tilman Rodenhäuser, a legal adviser for the ICRC, said: “Some experts consider civilian hacking activity as ‘cyber-vigilantism’ and argue that their operations are technically not sophisticated and unlikely to cause significant effects.”
However, he added that “large armies” had disrupted “banks, companies, pharmacies, hospitals, railway networks and civilian government services”.
The ICRC has urged governments to discourage hacking and enforce the new rules put forward.