On February 24, hours before Russian tanks rolled across the border, Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center detected a new round of cyberattacks against Ukraine’s digital infrastructure – a “wiper” malware aimed at government ministries and financial institutions. The company immediately notified Ukraine’s cyber authority and provided technical advice to thwart the malware, now denominated “FoxBlade.” Within three hours, Microsoft had written signatures to detect this new exploit and block the code, and later that night, the White House introduced the team to cyber leads in the Baltics, Poland, and other European nations to also help bolster their cyber defenses. Since then, Microsoft and other technology companies have provided regular threat intelligence and guidance to Ukrainian officials.
This is just one example of many that shows how American tech companies are leveraging their resources, capabilities, and expertise to assist Ukraine and defend its sovereignty against Russian aggression. Since the invasion began, tech has been on the digital front lines, detecting and preventing cyberattacks, resisting Russian disinformation, contributing tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian and in-kind aid, organizing fundraising efforts across their platforms, highlighting resources for Ukrainians, and more.
Resisting Russian misinformation
In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the digital battlefield has also taken center stage. Online platforms sprang to action in the early days of the invasion to combat false narratives and prevent the Russian weaponization of social media. Google and Microsoft blocked Russian state-media like RT and Sputnik News and stopped their ability to monetize and advertise on their platforms, which include YouTube, Google News, MSN.com, Bing, and more. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are demoting and flagging state-sponsored news and restricting their access. Netflix has refused to comply with Russian rules to carry 20 state-backed channels.
In retaliation, President Vladimir Putin has banned Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from Russia, calling the companies “extremist” organizations for pushing back against disinformation tactics. YouTube is also at risk. Despite these developments, platforms are fighting to stay online in Russia, so that counter speech and tools remain available for citizens and non-Russian government entities. Twitter, for example, has launched a privacy-protected version of its site to bypass surveillance and censorship after Russia blocked its service in the country.
Together, major tech companies have committed over $130 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine and refugees in Poland, with millions more in in-kind donations, matching employee giving, and platform-based fundraising.
Direct donations support organizations that are providing critical support to Ukrainians on the ground, such as UNICEF, UNHCR, World Food Program, World Central Kitchen, Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, Polska Akcja Humanitarna, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, and more.
With their wide reach, tech companies are also prompting users to donate to UNICEF and other organizations, serving a critical fundraising function to rally people around the world to aid relief efforts in Ukraine. For example, 750,000 users on Facebook and Instagram raised more than $30 million supporting both short- and long-term relief. Amazon has added donation buttons or direct links to charitable organizations on its homepages for customers who want to help, waiving fees for any payment processing.
Companies have also been unsparing in providing in-kind help. Uber is giving free rides out of Ukraine. Airbnb is offering free short-term housing for refugees. SpaceX launched Starlink to mitigate Internet disruptions. Major U.S. carriers have waived fees for customers who need to call Ukraine. The list goes on.
Airbnb and Etsy also have shown unique ways to channel assistance to their Ukrainian hosts and sellers. Users have been booking stays in Ukraine or buying digital stickers from Ukrainian shops to quickly transfer money to residents in need. On Airbnb, more than 434,000 nights have been booked so far, contributing more than $15 million to Ukrainian hosts. Etsy has waived all balances for Ukraine-based sellers, totaling around $4 million in fees, and users are buying digital stickers to support them.
Social media and search engines are critical tools for Ukrainians and others in the region to find information and assistance as they navigate a rapidly changing environment.
Facebook is using Community Help as a central resource for those in the region to find reliable information, seek medical care, and provide guidance for how to stay safe and get assistance. The company has also added mental health tips and resources. For aid organizations, Facebook is also supporting efforts to get important messaging out to those affected by the crisis through free ad campaigns on its platforms.
Google launched an SOS alert on its Search across Ukraine, allowing those who search for refugee and evacuation information to easily access United Nations resources. Google Maps has also added information on refugee and migrant centers in neighboring countries.
Twitter is also prompting critical digital safety and security recourses in English, Ukrainian, and Russian in its Search and Home Timeline, and curating Twitter Moments of the war to share real-time news and resources in multiple languages.
Aside from Microsoft’s assistance on detecting and blocking “FoxBlade,” other leading tech companies have also been at the forefront of cybersecurity support for both Ukrainian government efforts and citizen safety.
Facebook saw increased targeting of Ukrainian military and public figures by Ghostwriter, a hacking group linked to Belarus, and took down accounts used by the group. The company is also rolling out privacy and security measures to help people in Ukraine and Russia protect their accounts.
Google’s Threat Analysis Group has also been actively monitoring threat actors like FancyBear and Ghostwriter, who conduct activities ranging from espionage to phishing campaigns, and sharing information to help raise awareness. Over 150 websites in Ukraine, including many news organizations, are using Google’s Project Shield, which grants free protection by allowing Google to absorb the bad traffic from DDoS attacks, allowing government websites and crucial services to stay online.
Amazon Web Services has been working closely with Ukrainian customers and partners to keep their applications secure, fend off attacks, and share relevant intelligence in real time.
Learn more about the evolving cyber threat landscape and how it impacts businesses here.
Protecting Ukrainians’ safety and privacy
To protect the safety of local communities in Ukraine, Google and Apple have both disabled map data tools that provide live information on traffic and how busy different places are – working in consultation with regional authorities and other sources.
Meta is also hiding information on Facebook and Instagram about people’s followers, who they’re following, and other such information for private accounts based in Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, Facebook is sharing privacy-preserving datasets with trusted partners to help predict refugee flows.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of international law and human rights. It has disrupted decades of peace in the region, displaced record numbers of people in a massive humanitarian crisis and has sent shockwaves rippling across an already battered economy and fragile supply chains. Leading tech companies are using their technical expertise and broad reach to help Ukrainians find aid, resources, and safety and assist the Ukrainian government in fighting back against Russian disinformation and cyber attacks. Tech is standing with Ukraine on the digital front lines.
About the authors
Diya Li is director of communications at the Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC).