They Fled Ukraine to Keep Their Cyber Startup Alive. Now, They’re Hacking Back.

Dozens of employees at Ukrainian cybersecurity startup Hacken fled their war-torn country and found refuge about 2,000 miles away in Portugal. Since then, they have managed to keep their business alive and are now supporting cyber operations against Russia.

The company moved its main office from Kyiv to Lisbon, with stops in between, mirroring the drastic measures taken by millions of Ukrainians seeking to escape danger and preserve their livelihoods while the Kremlin wreaks havoc. For Hacken Chief Executive Dmytro Budorin, keeping his business going in the fast-growing market for cryptosecurity meant urging his workers to flee before the bombs began to fall.

“How will I feel, how will I look into the eyes of my employees, if we had the opportunity, had the money, understood that something can go wrong, and we didn’t do at least something to try to get everybody out?” he said.

Hacken CEO Dmytro Budorin in Lisbon with his children, Rimma and Roman.


Anastasiya Budorin

Hacken, a five-year-old company that tests blockchain-based projects for security flaws, employs about 80 auditors, developers and other crypto specialists. Many contribute to the war effort by finding vulnerabilities in Ukrainian and Russian computer systems and reporting the information to Kyiv’s Ministry of Digital Transformation or National Security and Defense Council, Mr. Budorin, 35, said.

Hacken’s Liberator application, which allows users to lend computing power to distributed denial-of-service attacks against Russian propaganda sites, counts more than 100,000 downloads. The company is also contributing to targeted efforts against Russian businesses, including an attempt to pressure the suppliers of Russian military footwear manufacturers, Mr. Budorin said.

Non-state actors supporting both sides of the conflict have exchanged fire mostly via low-impact cyberattacks. Those hitting Russian targets have met with little scrutiny despite pushes by Washington and Brussels in recent years to set international…