Russia News

Russia’s Unusual New Method Of Attack: Fake Bomb Threats

Russia attacks Ukraine not only physically but also through cyber warfare. Russian “bot farms” churn out thousands of automated social media accounts which can spread messages harmful to Ukraine. Sometimes this is political disinformation, but other times it takes the form of false bomb scares meant to disrupt schools, other institutions and Ukrainian society generally. Mitzi Perdue spoke to Ukrainian Lieutenant Colonel Vitaly Pankov to learn more.

Skull pirate, online cyberattack, hack, threat and breach security symbol and man typing computer keyboard. Hands on laptop. Network, cyber technology and background abstract concept. © Skorzewiak /

April 07, 2024 02:22 EDT

One of Russia’s specialties is to create fake bomb threats, Lieutenant Colonel Vitaly Pankov of the Kyiv Cyber Police told me in a Zoom interview. They develop fake accounts, simulating schools, shopping centers or government institutions and spread fake bomb threat alerts.

“The clear objective is to undermine a sense of stability and safety,” Pankov told me. “They want to make people feel scared and that their government can’t protect them. They never stop or slow down. It’s a constant flow of attacks.”

Most of us know about Russia using rockets to destroy targets like schools, hospitals and power plants. But the destruction Pankov is up against is just as harmful, yet also invisible. Pankov from the Kyiv Region Cyber Police is a digital warrior.

“They are using the digital battlefield to go after all aspects of online life, like mobile phones, banks, commerce, email, and internet service providers,” he told me. “They create denial of service so that no one can conduct commerce, and they attack anything related to data processing.”

The targets

Here’s how a particularly nasty Russian technique works, according to Pankov.

“We were able to destroy a bot farm in the Kyiv Region, funded and operated by the Russians,” he told me. “One of their specialties was creating fake bomb threats. They developed fake accounts involving schools and shopping centers or government institutions. A Russian expert sitting in Russia would instruct a local agent in Kyiv Region to create fake internet accounts, and then their fun begins. They spread fake bomb threat alerts.”

“Say it’s to a school, although it could be any institution they attack,” he told me. “The principal at the school gets a credible bomb threat, apparently coming from someone in Kyiv. The principal has to evacuate the building, and the students and staff can’t come back in until my sniffing dogs come to make sure the building is clean. It’s a total disruption of whatever the kids were studying.”

Pankov said the Russians do this systematically. “The economic and psychological impact is huge and it’s happening every day,” he adds.

The mechanics of a bot farm

A bot farm is a collection of automated programs (bots) that create fake media interactions, usually for malicious purposes. They enable many cyber attacks.

“During 2023 we disabled more than ten large-scale bot farms,” Pankov told me. “A bot farm can generate 500 new fake accounts in a day. The longer the bot farm exists, the more fake accounts it can use for malicious purposes. A bot farm can have a profound impact on the social space. In a month, a single bot farm can create 15,000 fake accounts.”

In his experience, the bot farms have three aspects.

1. Promoting Russian ideology

2. Spreading disinformation about political leaders or their decisions. The bot farmers’ goal is to undermine the public’s support for the government.

3. Undermining confidence in the military, suggesting that, for instance, many more Ukrainians are dying than Russians, or that the West doesn’t care about Ukraine.

For example, to spread malevolent disinformation, a bot farmer may post information from one account to a group that follows military affairs. Then fake people from other fake accounts from the same bot farm will comment on the story, endorse it and repost it to other groups. The scale of this can be so massive that people feel it must be real.

Asked to comment on whether this is happening in the West, Pankov answers, “I cannot comment on this officially, but from public sources, I see that the same pattern exists in the West. Bad actors inject fake information, and the goal is dividing people and making people not trust each other or their government.”


Pankov loves his job because he gets to fulfill the oath he took as a police officer: to protect and serve. “When we are investigating cybercrime and bringing the perpetrator to justice or even when we can prevent cybercrime from happening. I know, I am protecting and serving,” he said.

While traditional warfare garners headlines, the insidious nature of digital attacks poses an equally grave threat. As the Russia–Ukraine war rages on, it’s a reminder that the frontlines of modern warfare extend far beyond the physical realm. Ukraine is safer because of digital warriors like Lieutenant Colonel Pankov.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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