The conflict in Ukraine shows that the tech sector can help defend a country in times of war, according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, now an adviser to the US government on artificial intelligence. The Ukrainian government managed to protect its data from Russian cyberattacks and successfully mobilized applications that made it possible to inform the army in real time of the movements of Russian forces, Schmidt explained Monday, during a conference in line, after a 36-hour stay in Ukraine.
Among the initiatives taken by the young Ukrainian parliament from the start of the Russian offensive on February 24: the repeal of a law which prevented the government from storing its data in a dematerialized database. “They moved all their data from government servers to the cloud,” he said. Then the Ukrainians turned to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to receive terminals from the internal Starlink satellite service, which “failed” the Russian strategy to disable Ukrainian communications, according to Schmidt. Other business leaders and donors have distributed funds to Ukraine for the purchase of Starlink terminals, the number of which has now reached 20,000 in the country, recalled the former CEO of Google.
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The Ukrainian government also expanded the use of an Estonian encrypted app that Ukrainians were already using to store copies of their passports, ID cards, bank accounts, and more on their phones. “If your house was bombed, you could send a photo and the emergency services were immediately notified,” and the military informed, he said. Finally, the kyiv authorities launched a service using the Swiss encrypted messaging application Threema which allowed every Ukrainian to report Russian tanks to the government. The information received was then analyzed with the help of artificial intelligence to define the most useful targets. “Their internet remained operational, their government data remained protected and they had the means to allow citizen-journalists to transmit information to them”, he detailed.
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The Russian army which had invaded Ukraine from the north, hoping to quickly take control of kyiv, had to turn back in the spring, faced with Ukrainian resistance. The ex-CEO of Google also highlighted the use by the kyiv authorities of cyberattacks against Russia, on which he refrained from expanding. He also cited reports that Ukrainian forces used facial recognition to identify Russian soldiers accused of committing war crimes.
He further mentioned the Ukrainian “drone army” project, which foresees the extensive use of drones by Ukrainian forces, and their ability to take control of Russian drones. “Their programmers are very good at hacking them and using them,” he noted. “Based on the little data I have collected, I can say that the Ukrainian technology sector has really contributed” to the fight, he concluded.
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