Russia Is Leaking Data Like a Sieve

Russian soldiers sitting on a tank - Photograph: Sefa Karacan/Getty Images

Russia Is Leaking Data Like a Sieve
WIRED, April 13, 2022
By Matt Burgess

“Ukraine claims to have doxed Russian troops and spies, while hacktivists are regularly leaking private information from Russian organizations.”


Names, birthdays, passport numbers, job titles—the personal information goes on for pages and looks like any typical data breach. But this data set is very different. It allegedly contains the personal information of 1,600 Russian troops who served in Bucha, a Ukrainian city devastated during Russia’s war and the scene of multiple potential war crimes.


The data set is not the only one. Another allegedly contains the names and contact details of 620 Russian spies who are registered to work at the Moscow office of the FSB, the country’s main security agency. Neither set of information was published by hackers. Instead they were put online by Ukraine’s intelligence services, with all the names and details freely available to anyone online. “Every European should know their names,” Ukrainian officials wrote in a Facebook post as they published the data.


Since Russian troops crossed Ukraine’s borders at the end of February, colossal amounts of information about the Russian state and its activities have been made public. The data offers unparalleled glimpses into closed-off private institutions, and it may be a gold mine for investigators, from journalists to those tasked with investigating war crimes. Broadly, the data comes in two flavors: information published proactively by Ukranian authorities or their allies, and information obtained by hacktivists. Hundreds of gigabytes of files and millions of emails have been made public.


“Both sides in this conflict are very good at information operations,” says Philip Ingram, a former colonel in British military intelligence. “The Russians are quite blatant about the lies that they’ll tell,” he adds. Since the war started, Russian disinformation has been consistently debunked. Ingram says Ukraine has to be more tactical with the information it publishes. “They have to make sure that what they’re putting out is credible and they’re not caught out telling lies in a way that would embarrass them or embarrass their international partners.”


Both the lists of alleged FSB officers and Russian troops were published online by Ukraine’s Central Intelligence Agency at the end of March and start of April, respectively. While WIRED has not been able to verify the accuracy of the data—and Ukrainian cybersecurity officials did not respond to a request for comment—Aric Toler, from investigative outlet Bellingcat, tweeted that the FSB details appear to have been combined from previous leaks and open source information. It is unclear how up-to-date the information is.


Regardless, it appears to be one of the first times a government has doxed thousands of military personnel in one fell swoop. Jack McDonald, a senior lecturer in war studies at King’s College London who has researched privacy in war, says that, throughout history, nations have kept lists of their opponents or tried to create them. But these have often been linked to counterinsurgency efforts and were typically not made public. “Openly publishing such lists of your opponent, particularly at the scale that digital operations appear to allow, that seems very new,” McDonald says.

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About the Author:

Matt Burgess is a senior writer at WIRED focused on information security, privacy, and data regulation in Europe. He graduated from the University of Sheffield with a degree in journalism and now lives in London.