On Monday, a group of Belarusian politically motivated hackers known as the Belarusian Cyber Partisans announced on Twitter and Telegram that they had breached the computer systems of Belarusian Railways, the country's national train system, as part of a hacktivist effort the attackers call Scorching Heat.

The hackers have since posted screenshots that appeared to show their access to the railway’s backend systems and claimed to have encrypted its network with malware, for which they would only provide decryption keys if the Belarus government met a list of demands. They’ve called for the release of 50 political prisoners detained in the midst of the country’s protests against dictator Alexander Lukashenko, as well as a commitment from Belarusian Railways to not transport Russian troops as the Kremlin prepares for a possible invasion of Ukraine on multiple fronts.

Ransomware—and destructive malware purporting to be ransomware—has certainly been used for political coercion in the past. North Korean hackers, for instance, planted destructive malware on machines across the network of Sony Pictures in 2014.

In the larger view of hacktivism and ransomware, however, Guerrero-Saade argues that the Cyber Partisans’ tactics could soon bleed out to other groups who see the power of ransomware to achieve political coercion—for good and for ill—and raise the stakes of Belarus’ own political conflicts.

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