Digital Transformation Ministry offers job to man accused of hacking Ukraine’s official “state in a smartphone” app

The 21-year-old Ukrainian that created a fake "Diya" app stands between Ukraine's deputy Minister of Interior Yevhen Yenin (right) and Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov (left)

 

Ukraine

Editor’s Note

A 21-year-old self-taught hacker created a fake version of Ukraine’s official “state in a smartphone” Diia app, Ukrainian officials said. For a meager price, users could download the fake copy and forge COVID vaccination certificates, student discount cards, driving licenses — as well as passports with which teens could buy age-restricted cigarettes and alcohol.

Cyber police reported they caught the culprit. Now, Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation has made him an offer to work on social projects to “correct himself” in what the Interior Ministry calls “alternative influence.”

One of the perks being implemented by the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is an ambitious “state in a smartphone” program. An entire ministry has been tasked with this goal — the Ministry of Digital Transformation. Its flagship product, the Diia app, aims to bring 100% of state services, previously accessible only through cumbersome procedures at chaotic offices, into a single online portal and smartphone app, by 2024.

The digitalization of Ukraine’s bureaucratic procedures offers relief for many a citizen. As well, it gives ample opportunities for hackers to exploit safety gaps in the service and mine personal data. But a hacker found a novel way to make money from the misuse of the state service.

His fake Diiya app could generate a passport, student’s card, tax number, driving licence, and a COVID vaccination certificate. Although the fake app can’t generate a QR code like the real Diia, in practice these codes are often not scanned and thus, something that simply looks similar to the Diiya document could easily pass in transport, where access is restricted based on vaccination certificates or supermarkets, where teens could ostensibly show a faked passport to buy smokes or booze.

The fake app appeared on 25 October, and the cyberpolice reported that they caught its mastermind fairly quickly — on 27 October. Then the story took a surprising turn: the 21-year-old hacker was offered an internship at the Ministry of Digital Transformation, with the Ministry of Interior granting permission. According The young man was offered to atone for his guilt and try in the ministry,” he said.

That is not to say he will avoid punishment: deputy Minister of Interior Yevhen Yenin noted that the young man would still be held liable under Art. 358 of the Criminal code “Forgery of documents, seals, stamps and forms, sale or use of forged documents, seals, stamps.” This is punishable by a fine of UAH 17,000 ($650), arrest for up to six months, or restriction of liberty for up to two years.

According to the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the young man will undergo “IT re-education” while he awaits his trial, working on social projects in the Ministry of Digital Transformation.

Explaining this decision, Yenin said that a mature society “fights for each person” and gives a chance to correct mistakes:

“In search of a fair alternative, we gave the young hacker Vlad, who broke the law, the opportunity to correct himself. To enable him to use his abilities wisely. Of course, everyone is equal before the law, so the court will still determine how to punish the 21-year-old hacker, but working for the state can significantly improve the overall impression when making a court decision. This can be called an alternative influence.”

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