The use of mobile phones in Russia is changing the nature of warfare and presenting new challenges for troops that could reverberate in future conflicts.
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Russian forces are using electronic warfare systems against their Ukrainian adversaries. The Ukrainians are intercepting communications between Russian soldiers. Both sides are using mobile phone cameras to show their sides of the war.
The chair of Urban Warfare Studies with the Madison Policy Forum told Digital Trends that both sides of the issue are at risk.
Simple chats between Russian soldiers in the field are a juicy target for Ukrainian intelligence. The Russians use regular commercial phones instead of using encryption, which is standard procedure with most Western militaries.
Adam Fish, the CEO of Ditto, said in an interview that Russian soldiers' military-grade radios have not been modernized. The Russians rely on commercial mobile devices and networks to exchange information.
According to Spencer, Ukrainian forces were able to listen in on communications, target senior commanders for aerial bombings, and intercept valuable messages about troop orders.
The Ukrainian military is aware of the dangers and puts out cautionary instructions not to use unsecured communications.
In an interview with Digital Trends, a senior leader in the U.S. Air Force said that cell phones are more convenient for soldiers than military radios. Military equipment is secure, but often systems are not compatible.
The army and navy in one country have different systems for tactical communication. The Russians have chosen to use cell phones. It makes them vulnerable in the field.
The problem is that regular mobile phones were not designed to hide users.
The problem is that regular mobile phones were not designed to hide users. All phones leave a digital footprint that can be easily accessed through a software development kit. This data provides a geographic location that can be used to identify the user.
If you know a unit is in a certain location, you can buy the data for it. You can identify who the device belongs to by watching where it goes.
One way opposing forces can identify users is by hacking into the cellular network. This can allow them to listen in on calls and identify location data. The stingray is a method that allows you to hijack the cellular signal and get the same data as if you hacked into the cellular network.
According to Tim Redfearn, an information technology expert with a military equipment supplier, cell-site simulators can pick up the signals of nearby cell phones. The location of enemy troops can be identified by tricking cell phones into connecting with multiple masts.
Ordinary mobile users are being used by the Ukrainians to find their enemies. Spencer said that civilians have used their mobile phones to take pictures and videos of Russian forces.
This allows the Ukrainian military and open-source intelligence to gather not only where the Russians are, but also specific information on what unit they are in.
Mobile phones have become targets. Russian soldiers seized cell phones and laptops from residents in the suburbs of Kyiv who were displaced from their apartments, and held them captive in the basement.
There are more cell phones in Ukraine than in previous wars.
There are more cell phones in Ukraine than in previous wars. More sensors are needed to capture Russian movements because of the increase in cell phones.
It is like war is happening in an arena and each of us is a witness to the event.
Both sides in the conflict use mobile phones as propaganda. Russian families can call the Ukrainian government's hotline to find out if their relatives have been captured. Spencer said that the walls between the fighter soldier and home are gone because of the immediacy of mobile communications.
The first thing captured Russian soldiers were often given was a mobile phone. The families will support the war if it influences their will to fight.
The outcome of the conflict in Ukraine may depend on which side wins the information war and that will be waged over mobile phones. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has won billions of dollars in aid for his country through skillful use of appeals on television and internet appearances. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has not presented his rationale for battle.
The goal in war in the West is to use force to achieve a political outcome.