Ukrainian cybersecurity startup continues to invade Russia from Portugal

Dozens of employees at Ukrainian cybersecurity startup Hacken fled their war-torn country and found refuge some 3,000 kilometers away in Portugal. They managed to keep their business alive and help launch cyberattacks against Russia.

Mirroring the sweeping measures taken by millions of Ukrainians seeking to escape danger and preserve their livelihoods despite the Kremlin’s devastation, the company moved its headquarters from Kiev to Lisbon, making between the two. For Dmytro Boudorin, chief executive of Hacken, keeping his company active in the fast-growing cryptosecurity market meant forcing his employees to flee before the bombs started to rain.

“How would I feel, how could I look my employees in the eye if, having had the opportunity and the means and knowing that there could be a disaster, we hadn’t at least tried to evacuate everyone? he says.

Hacken, a company born five years ago, tests blockchain-based projects to track down any security flaws. It employs around 80 controllers, developers, and other cryptography experts. Many contribute to the war effort by looking for vulnerabilities in Ukrainian and Russian computer systems and reporting them to the Ministry of Digital Transformation or the National Security and Defense Council in Kiev, says Budorin, 35.

“In the conflict in Ukraine, many of the norms and rules that govern the behavior of non-state actors, or even companies, have now disappeared”

Liberator, an application developed by Hacken that allows users to lend computing power to denial-of-service attacks targeting Russian advertising sites, has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The company is also involved in targeted efforts against Russian companies, including an attempt to pressure army shoemakers’ suppliers, Budorin said.

Non-state actors on both sides are also waging war with low-impact cyber attacks. Those that hit Russian targets are subject to very few controls, despite the willingness of Washington and Brussels in recent years to set international standards to limit this type of activity, explains Stefan Soesanto, a cyber defense researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute’s Center for Security Studies. of Technology Zurich.

“In the conflict in Ukraine, many of the norms and rules that govern the behavior of non-state actors, or even companies, have disappeared today,” he adds.

for Mr. Boudorin, Hacken’s attacks must be considered from the angle of a struggle of good against evil. “Now is not the time to be afraid,” he says.

Hacken’s journey to Europe began on February 14, when Western officials warned that a Russian invasion was imminent. Some employees did not believe such an attack was possible, but during a meeting at Hacken’s offices, located in a former Russian military factory in central Kiev, company officials advised the team to work elsewhere for two weeks. They told themselves this change would be temporary, explains Mr. Boudorin. The company gave $4,000 to employees who left the country and $2,000 to those who stayed but moved to another region.

The next day, Yevgueniia Brochevane, director of business development, boarded a plane with colleagues bound for Barcelona. Others traveled to Turkey, Austria or western Ukraine. Nine days later, the Russian invasion began. At that time, there were only a few dozen Hacken employees in the country, to deal with the bombings and sporadic communication interruptions.

“After all that, we realized how lucky we were to make this decision early on,” comments Ms. Brochevane.

Hacken employees split the company into two teams to ensure it stayed focused amid the barrage of warnings about Russian aggression and Telegram exchanges from family and friends.

“We are all just waiting for Ukraine to win this war”

One of the teams takes care of the main activity of the company that seeks to impose itself more widely in the cryptosecurity market and develops subscription software that should be commercialized within the year. The other takes part in the counter-offensive against Russia, whose organization is approximate.

For Denys Ivanov, 35, Hacken’s director of operations, his team’s experience is best put to use making money to help Ukraine, as well as contributing to the digital war effort, which ‘takes up arms’. This idea helps him overcome his sense of guilt for having left the country at the time of the Russian aggression.

“The feeling of being safe was very difficult to deal with,” says Ivanov.

He and his wife went to Spain without their two children, who remained in Ukraine with their parents. Four days after the start of the war, Ivanov flew to Bucharest, Romania, from where he took buses and taxis to the Moldovan border, where he entered on foot to meet his parents at the Ukrainian border. Then he returned to Barcelona with his two children aged six and seven, which took three days. His parents stayed at home in the Odessa region, away from the most intense fighting.

Hacken executives are now organizing for the long haul. Office rent and the cost of living in Spain are too high, last month the company moved to Lisbon.

In pursuit, Ivanov uploaded videos of housing to his colleagues and rented about 20 apartments on their behalf. The company grants an additional 500 euros to its employees monthly for its installation.

Hacken continues to grow, both in terms of income and employees, while cutting ties with its Russian customers who refuse to denounce the war, explains Boudorin, the general manager. The company makes about $1 million a month and is profitable, he says. Recruiting new employees turned out to be easier than expected as much of Ukraine’s tech workforce is unemployed. The World Bank estimates that the Ukrainian economy will contract by 45% this year.

As he adjusts to his new professional life with his colleagues in a Lisbon office he describes as “cozy”, Ivanov, the director of operations, reports that he tried to save on food and other expenses to pay for his children’s education and send money to five family members at home.

“We are all just waiting for Ukraine to win this war,” he concludes. “And we all think it will be our duty to go back and try to rebuild. »

(Translated from the original English version by Bérengère Viennot)

Leave a Comment