Vladimir Putin has threatened a “direct military confrontation” if the US or other western nations engage in cyber-attacks on Russia’s infrastructure. Last weekend the Kremlin’s housing ministry’s webpage was hacked, and a sign in Ukrainian reading “Glory to Ukraine” was inserted on computer screens. So, how will the Biden administration respond to this not-so-veiled challenge? The US uncharacteristically has said, “bring it on.” This insult to the housing ministry’s pride and reputation pales, of course, in comparison to the shutting down of the Colonial Pipeline by Russian hackers. Additionally, there is no valid evidence that the Kremlin punished the Colonial Pipeline cyber villains, though Moscow claimed to have brought them to justice – whatever that means these days inside Russia.
Putin is, nonetheless, on the bully pulpit offensive with a statement that asserted Russia’s “critical infrastructure” was being hammered with cyber-attacks. “Rest assured, Russia will not leave aggressive actions unanswered. All our steps will be measured, targeted, in accordance with our legislation and international law,” Reuters reported quoting a Kremlin foreign ministry statement. “The militarization of the information space by the West and attempts to turn it into an arena of interstate confrontation have greatly increased the threat of a direct military clash with unpredictable consequences,” the statement from Moscow’s foreign ministry international information security said. The strong reaction from Putin’s government indicates outside cyber assaults are making an impact.
The Russian foreign ministry statement comes amid admissions that Russia is the target of purposeful cyber intrusions. A little over a month after Putin’s military implemented an unprovoked and vicious invasion of Ukraine, Anonymous announced it had carried out successful hacking attacks on Moscow. Anonymous is a non-aligned collection of hacker-activists roaming the internet. In the first week of March, “Anonymous claimed to have hacked into Russia’s media censorship agency and released 340,000 files from Roskomnadzor federal agency, stealing classified documents which they then passed on to transparency organization Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), who published them online,” according to a report in the Daily Mail.
An unexpected but reassuring mea culpa for attacking Russia’s internet comes from the US. In early April, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Armed Services, Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems Subcommittees, commander, US Cyber Command General Paul Nakasone, told the committee members the US is not sitting on its thumbs.
“When Moscow ordered the invasion in late February, we stepped up an already high operational tempo. We have been conducting additional hunt forward operations to identify network vulnerabilities. These operations have bolstered the resilience of Ukraine and our NATO Allies and partners. We provided remote analytic support to Ukraine and conducted network defense activities aligned to critical networks from outside Ukraine – directly in support of mission partners.”
Leave it to the US Department of Defense to be as cryptic as possible with phrases like “hunt forward operations.” A Sky News interview explained the phrase more clearly. “General Nakasone confirmed for the first time that the US was conducting offensive hacking operations in support of Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion.” In March, Liberty Nation correspondent Keelin Ferris asked, “Is the United States Ready For A Cyber War With Russia?” It’s good to know the answer is yes.
Even before the Russian invasion on February 24, Russia attacked Ukraine’s infrastructure, air defense, and communications. So, if Vladimir Putin is put off by the proportional counter-cyber-attacks on Russia, too bad. It’s just desserts for the continuous hacking and service denial assaults by Moscow’s cyber forces in the world of cyber warfare. Whether Moscow ups the ante to a more “direct military clash” remains to be seen. In any event, the US is showing some cyber-spine, and that’s encouraging.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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