Russia’s slow cyber war in Ukraine begins to escalate, experts say | Ukraine
With the war in Ukraine comes an ever-present threat of cyber disaster, as US military experts and officials remain on high alert for potential hacks. And while the big one has yet to come, the online battle continues to escalate.
British intelligence officers warned on Thursday that Russia is increasingly searching for cyber targets as its ground military campaign in Ukraine bogs down. Additional reports on Wednesday revealed that Russian hackers had recently attempted to penetrate the networks of NATO and the armies of some Eastern European countries.
These developments showed that “things are heating up” on the cybersecurity front, said Theresa Payton, cybersecurity expert and former White House chief information officer. “We have to prepare for the worst and operate as best we can,” she said.
Yet, Payton noted, Russia has been very slow to deploy cyber tactics in the war to date. There could be a number of reasons for this, she said: Putin might not feel the need to use cyber attacks in his strategy at this stage of the war, or he might want to avoid retaliation. additional promised by the United States in the event of a cyber war.
Putin could also “play a long game” and have his cyber operatives infiltrate various adversaries and gain a foothold, then wait until he decides to launch a cyber attack.
“It is possible that digital attacks are underway that are not fully understood in the fog of a ground war,” Payton said.
Although Russia has been slow to carry out major attacks, it has targeted Ukraine in other ways. On February 24, more than 10,000 modems from satellite broadband provider Viasat were taken offline in a hack that US officials attributed to Russia.
Although this attack sabotaged equipment across Ukraine and is continuing, it was more likely that Russia would focus its resources on cyber reconnaissance missions than on powerful attacks, said Glenn S Gerstell, former general counsel of the National Security Agency and the Central Security Service.
“We know that Russia is quite sophisticated in cyber surveillance and spying on its adversaries, and we can assume that it would want to learn about sanctions and other information,” he said.
The United States this week announced additional sanctions against Russia, including on its technology sector. The White House said Thursday that the United States had evidence that the war on Ukraine had been “a strategic disaster” for Russia and would only get worse as sanctions were increased.
Gerstell said it was difficult to predict what type of offensive Russia would launch because its strategy throughout this conflict had been unpredictable. But Putin’s response could change depending on the situation on the ground, he added.
“As they start to lose, Putin can move away from what we think of as rational calculations of risk and reward,” Gerstell said. “If his reign is threatened, all bets are off on the thresholds he might cross in terms of cyber response.”
Reuters contributed to this report