Belarusian group claims hack on railway system after Russian troop moves

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REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

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MOSCOW, Jan 24 (Reuters) - A Belarusian opposition hacker group said on Monday it had encrypted some of the state railway company's computer systems to disrupt its operations after it helped transport Russian troops into Belarus.

The self-styled Belarusian Cyber-Partisans, which has claimed responsibility for a number of previous cyberattacks, tweeted that it had encrypted some of the railway service's servers, databases and workstations.

It said it would be ready to hand over encryption keys on condition that 50 political prisoners were released and the presence of Russian troops in Belarus was "prevented". The group said it had deliberately not disrupted the railway's automation and security systems.

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The claims could not immediately be verified, but the Belarusian Railway service said electronic tickets were unavailable for what it described as "technical reasons", the Belta state news agency reported. It told customers to buy tickets offline and said it was working to restore its systems.

It did not mention any hacking of its systems, and did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Yuliana Shemetovets, who identified herself as a spokesperson for the Cyber-Partisans group but not a member, told Reuters the attack appeared to have affected rail freight. She said it had been intended to prevent movements of Russian troops, but that it was too early to say if it had succeeded.

Russia has been moving military hardware and forces into Belarus ahead of what the two countries say are planned joint military exercises next month. The exercises have added to Russia's tensions with the West over neighbouring Ukraine.

Shemetovets said she was based in the United States but could not reveal the identity or whereabouts of the group for security reasons. She said it had been set up in September 2020 as mass opposition protests in Belarus prompted a sweeping crackdown by the authorities.

The group has previously claimed responsibility for paralysing government websites, hacking the interior ministry and internal government databases and revealing the names and personal details of members of the security forces.

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Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Trevelyan and Kevin Liffey

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