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Hacked Ukrainian radio stations broadcast fakes about Zelensky’s health

by Daryna Antoniuk July 21, 2022 10:50 PM 2 min read
President Volodymyr Zelensky in an address following a hack of Ukraine's largest radio network that broadcast a false message the president was in an intensive care ward on July 21, 2022 (Instagram/ Zelensky)
This audio is created with AI assistance

Hackers attacked one of Ukraine’s largest radio networks, TavrMedia, on July 21, broadcasting fake news about President Volodymyr Zelensky’s alleged health problems, according to Ukraine’s security officials.

Unidentified hackers broadcasted reports that Zelensky was in an intensive care ward and that his duties were being temporarily performed by Chairman of the Ukrainian parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk, according to Ukraine’s State Special Communications Service.

Following the hack, Zelensky accused Russia of spreading fakes and denied the information about his illness in a video shared on his official Instagram page.

“I am in the office and I have never felt as healthy as I do now,” Zelensky said.

A music program on at least one out of TavrMedia’s nine radio stations was interrupted by the false reports about Zelensky’s health at around 1 p.m. The company didn’t mention which station the message was broadcast on.

The Kyiv Independent reached out to TavrMedia but didn’t receive a response before the time of publication.

It is still unclear how many people heard the fake news about Zelensky on the radio. The hackers broadcasted it during prime time, between 12 and 2 p.m.

In Ukraine, TavrMedia controls the country’s most popular radio stations: Hit FM, Radio Roks, Kiss FM, Radio Relax, Melodiya FM, Nashe Radio, Radio Jazz, Classic Radio and Radio Bayraktar, a radio station broadcasting Ukrainian music that was launched after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

TavrMedia wrote on Facebook that it is working “to solve the problem,” but did not provide additional details. Ukraine’s State Special Communications Service told the Kyiv Independent that it will provide more details about the incident the following day, on July 21.

It is too early to say which hacker group is behind the attack – the incident will have to first be investigated by the Ukrainian state cyberattacks response unit CERT-UA, said Volodymyr Styran, Ukrainian cybersecurity expert and co-founder of cybersecurity firm Berezha Security Group.

According to Styran, there are five main elements by which researchers can classify an incident: goal, effect, attacker, target, and relationship between the target and the attacker.

“In this case, the goal of the hackers was Ukrainian radio, the effect was disinformation, the goal was political and military destabilization, the relationship was a war between Russia and Ukraine,” he told the Kyiv Independent.

This attack is not surprising considering the ongoing cyberwar between Russia and Ukraine.

Since February 24, Russia has carried out more than 700 cyberattacks against Ukraine, according to Ukraine’s security official Yuriy Shchyhol. Most of them were intercepted by Ukrainian cybersecurity officials and didn’t cause the intended damage, Shchyhol said.

Hacker groups around the world have also joined the fight and taken either Russian or Ukrainian sides. Among hacker gangs siding with Ukraine are Anonymous, Ghostsec, AgainstTheWest, Belarusian Cyber Partisans, ContiLeaks.

Hacker groups working for Russia include Conti, Killnet, SandWorm, UNC1151.

There have been on-air incidents in Russia as well. In June, for example, one group hacked the Russian radio station Kommersant FM to broadcast the Ukrainian anthem and anti-war songs.

And on May 9, when Russians celebrate Victory Day, a commemoration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II, Russian smart TVs were hacked to display a message saying “the blood of thousands of Ukrainian children is on your hands.”

Read also: Ukraine's resilient tech industry doing well in spite of war

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