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Belarus hacktivists target railway in anti-Russia effort

FILE - Passengers at a railway station in Minsk, Belarus, stand in line to board a high-speed train to Moscow on May 28, 2021. A Belarusian hacktivist...

FILE - Passengers at a railway station in Minsk, Belarus, stand in line to board a high-speed train to Moscow on May 28, 2021. A Belarusian hacktivist...

A Belarusian hacktivist group says it has launched a limited cyberattack on the national railway company, aimed at impeding the movement of Russian troops and freight inside the Moscow-allied country. It said it encrypted some servers, databases and workstations.

The group, Belarusian Cyber Partisans, said it had disrupted the online sale of tickets in Monday's attack and was working to fix that as it did not intend to disturb regular passenger service.

Belarusian Railways said its web resources were inaccessible and online ticket sales were halted for unspecified “technical reasons.” State authorities would not comment on the attack.

The hacktivist group claims between 20 to 30 members of Belarus' IT community. It arose during protests triggered by Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote. The opposition and the West consider the election to have been rigged.

Lukashenko is a close ally of Russia, which has troops in Belarus for massive military exercises coinciding with the buildup of more than 100,000 Russian forces on the shared Ukraine border that could augur a feared incursion.

“Mostly commercial (freight) trains are affected,” Yuliana Shemetovets, New York-based spokeswoman for the Cyber Partisans, said of the sabotage effort. “We hope it will indirectly affect Russian troops as well but we can’t know for sure. … At this point it’s too early to say.”

She said some train schedules were disrupted and the hackers were working to fix the online ticket sale disruption. “The intention was not to impact any passengers.”

The Cyber Partisans first breached the railway network in December and were able to enter its signaling and control system but decided not to tamper with it for safety reasons, Shemetovets said.

She said the hackers hoped also to affect China-bound cargo to do political damage to the Lukashenko regime, which the group seeks to topple.

In a tweet, the hacktivists demanded the release of “the 50 political prisoners who are most in need of medical assistance” and the removal of Russian troops from Belarus.

The Cyber Partisans say they have hacked the Belarusian Interior Ministry’s passport database and a police database. They have publicly disclosed the names of officials who they say opened criminal investigations against peaceful protesters and have exposed information on apartments owned by members of Lukashenko’s security apparatus.

The hackers also supplied border control data on entries and exits to independent investigators at Bellingcat to assist its probe of an apparent Ukrainian sting operation to arrest Russian mercenaries in Belarus. In an online chat in November, Cyber Partisans members said they were not collaborating with any foreign governments but “we are not against it, as long as it aligns with our depicted goals, to change the regime.”

That still holds true, Shemetovets said Monday.

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AP writer Yuras Kurmanau in Kyiv contributed to this report.