Artificial Intelligence & Modern Wars: How Ukrainian Cyber Defense & DIIA Leverage AI to Fight Back by@mobidev

Artificial Intelligence & Modern Wars: How Ukrainian Cyber Defense & DIIA Leverage AI to Fight Back

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Although the brutality and inhumanity of war has not changed for thousands of years, wartime technologies have evolved in new ways that are shaping Russia’s war on Ukraine. While electronic warfare has defined the 21st century battleground, the proliferation of misinformation against entire populations of people has made the war in Ukraine much more complicated. In particular, the use of artificial intelligence and notably machine learning technologies have driven many of these attacks. Let’s talk about how these technologies are changing and expanding the field of battle in Ukraine.

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Artificial Intelligence in Cyberwarfare

To help us understand how these technologies are used in the war, I asked Evgeniy Krasnokutsky for his insight. As an artificial intelligence expert here at MobiDev, Evgeniy has worked on various AI and machine learning projects for businesses around the world.

One of the most profound changes that AI technologies have brought to the war in Ukraine are the kinds of people fighting the battles.

“Now that AI is part of this informational war, many IT workers wound up becoming warriors on the cyber battlefield”

Evgeniy explains.

“They’re not fighting with bullets and munitions, but instead with data.”

How AI Became a Weapon

There are a few reasons that Evgeniy suspects are responsible for us reaching this point. “War has become more intelligent than ever, and western nations have become more and more reliant on technology,” he says.

“Importantly, the reliance of entire populations on the Internet and social media platforms for news is a perfect storm for misinformation campaigns and social engineering.”

Another important thing to note is that AI has advanced a great deal over the past few years. According to Grandview Research, in 2021 the global artificial intelligence sector was worth $93.5 billion USD and is only continuing to grow. The majority of this market is related to business and commercial applications, but this doesn’t mean the technology can’t be weaponized.

Russia’s Cyber Attacks on Ukraine

Aggression in the invasion of Ukraine on the digital front has utilized artificial intelligence in ways not seen before in a war of this scale. Bloomberg reveals through app download trends that many Ukrainians shifted to encrypted messaging apps in the hopes that they may prevent Russian forces from gaining valuable intelligence on civilian and troop movements.

Deepfakes

However, another dimension of the war is the use of AI to spread misinformation and attempt to manipulate the population on social media by Russian forces. “Russian forces are using fake accounts with profile images created by artificial intelligence,” Evgeniy says.

“Since these images are unique and lifelike, they are less likely to be identified as bots.”

These deepfakes usher in a completely new generation of propaganda war as these fake accounts spread pro-Russia and anti-Ukrainian content.

An important and dire example of the use of deepfake technology in the war was a doctored video of Ukrainian President Zelensky encouraging his fellow countrymen to surrender. Zelensky had previously predicted that this might occur. The fact that it did shows that the threat of this kind of manipulation is very real and must be dealt with. Fortunately, the video was not very well made and was not very effective.

Russia’s Botched Cyber Offensive

As reported in Tech Monitor, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)’s Senior Fellow for Cyberspace and Future Conflict, Greg Austin, believes that Vladimir Putin did not put enough resources into his cyber offensive, meaning that no substantial gains have been made by Russia’s cyberattacks.

Indeed, a more effective strategy would have been to utilize electronic warfare as the United States did in the Gulf War, utilizing EW aircraft like the EF-111 Raven to disable air defense networks and other military infrastructure.

The Ukrainian Cyber Defense

In response to Russian aggression, Ukraine has a number of means to defend itself through electronic and information warfare. Mykhailo Fedorov, the Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation, has described the digital resistance effort as being Ukraine’s ‘IT Army’. The Ministry created a Telegram group for those willing to lend digital hacking assistance that has garnered over 34,000 volunteers. There are numerous hacking groups as well aiding the Ukrainian war effort, including AgainstTheWest, the Belarusian Cyber Partisans, Anonymous, GhostSec, and more.

“Ukraine has a powerful and fast-growing information technology industry,” Evgeniy describes. “Our strong education system allows for people to jump right into an IT position at a company like MobiDev right after they graduate from university. For sure, they still have much to learn, but with the solid background and the right guidance, they’re on the right track”. Indeed, Kharkiv alone has 43 universities. As a result of this, there are numerous ways that Ukraine has been able to defend itself against Russian oppression using artificial intelligence and other technologies.

Diia: Empowering Ukrainians

“One of the most valuable digital tools available to Ukrainians in this war is Diia,” Evgeniy says, showing me his phone. ‘Diia’, which translates to ‘Action’ in English, is an app created by the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation that launched in 2020.

According to Bloomberg, over a third of the nation uses Diia. Although it allows citizens to digitize their documents, it also has another key feature to help promote safety and security during the war.

A key feature of Diia is that access to the application is restricted behind facial recognition. Using artificial intelligence, the app verifies the user’s identity based on whether or not their face matches what they have in their database. Modern facial recognition technologies are also armed with anti-spoofing methods that are used to prevent defeating biometric security.

With chatbots, Ukrainian citizens can report Russian troop movements and attach images and videos. “Diia’s Telegram chatbot function may utilize natural language processing, an artificial intelligence technology,” Evgeniy explains.

“By utilizing chatbots, the Ukrainian government can handle large quantities of user-generated reports much more efficiently.”

AI is Supporting Justice in Ukraine

With the illegal Russian attack on Ukrainian soil and numerous human rights violations occurring across the nation, it has become more important than ever to collect data on Russian activities and their actions. Evidence of war crimes can be used during future judicial cases and reviews of the events of the war, bringing justice for those who have suffered over the course of the conflict. Already AI technology is being used to identify war criminals who committed atrocities in Bucha and Irpin.

Facial Recognition Aids Returning Fallen Russian Soldiers to their Families

One way that artificial intelligence is helping in this effort is through facial recognition, which is being used to identify Russian casualties. According to Reuters, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense utilizes Clearview AI to match images of dead Russian soldiers with images on the Internet from social media platforms and other websites.

“AI is uniquely suited to handling facial recognition tasks”

Evgeniy continues. “By using social media platforms as a database and matching the images with photos taken of these soldiers, it can become easier to identify who they are and return the bodies to their families.”

AI Transcription of Communications

Another important ability that enables artificial intelligence to assist the war effort is speech recognition. By taking intercepted radio and phone communications between Russian forces and analyzing them with AI transcription programs, Ukrainian forces can learn more about Russian troop movements. “Machine learning is a handy tool when it comes to speech recognition,” Evgeniy explains.

“This works by training the algorithm of the program with recordings of people speaking. The more training data you have, the more accurate are your results with the final product.”

This has been used to analyze numerous Russian communications over the course of the war. It’s possible that these communications may be used in the future to try Russian forces for war crimes.

Artificial Intelligence Drives Heavy Weapons

Although unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been in use for over a decade, their accuracy, scope, and number have increased substantially. Advances in artificial intelligence technologies have made these weapons more autonomous than ever, able to recognize and engage targets based on data they receive from cameras and sensors.

Bayraktar’s software enables UAVs to detect objects on the ground from the aircraft’s tail camera. Not only that,  their software allows for enhanced automatic control of the aircraft and continuous learning from each flight.

This technology doesn’t just apply to military-grade UAVs. Consumer drones like DJI’s fleet are widely available. These can be used by civilians or even military operators to track enemies and run reconnaissance.

What’s Next for Ukraine’s Cyber Defense

The cyber attacks committed by the Russian government and its supporters may be a nuisance, but they are serious. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Ukraine’s strong IT sector and the ‘IT Army’ and its allies, these attacks are little more than a nuisance. In response, Ukraine’s efforts to utilize artificial intelligence technology to empower citizens to support the defense of their nation are an inspiring reminder of the importance of standing up against injustice.

With AI and machine learning tools being used to identify the perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine, justice can be achieved for the families affected by these tragedies.

“The future of warfare is a chimera of physical and digital tactics, and that future is with us right now here in Ukraine,” Evgeniy says. “Not only will we continue to defend our homes with weapons and armor, but also with information.”

Written by Liam Shotwell, Technology Enthusiast, Writer at MobiDev.

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