Tanks, fighter jets, artillery, and military units are not the only weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin has utilized to invade Ukraine. The aggression includes cyberattacks aimed at destabilizing critical infrastructure. Prior to the physical invasion, the Ukrainian government and businesses were infected with malware that disrupted their networks and wiped out necessary data. Experts warn of an international cyber war involving the United States, but are we prepared to face the cyber wrath of the Kremlin and its slew of criminals?
Russian Attacks on Ukraine
Russia is known to house some of the most sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals globally. They are notorious for working independently and have been accused of being used by the Kremlin to target both government and private agencies, which makes the utilization of cyberattacks on Ukraine no surprise. Ukraine struggled for years to fight off network and website disruptions, ransomware attacks, and disinformation and propaganda campaigns launched by the Russian government.
Most recently and relevant to the current invasion are Ukrainian government agencies, banks, and businesses diseased by data-wiping malware. The scale of the damage has not been completely assessed, but hundreds of machines are compromised. The operation appears to have been months in the works, indicating that Putin has planned the attack for some time. Responsibility has not been 100% determined; however, experts point the finger at the work of the Russian government.
Cyber operations are not “super-weapons” President Putin can use to achieve his objective. Still, they are valuable tools, capable of disabling critical infrastructure and causing havoc, making it harder for Ukraine to fight back.
President Joe Biden was offered numerous options from his advisors for the U.S. to respond on the ground, in the air, and online. However, according to U.S. intelligence officials, no final decisions have been made. Potential targets include Russia’s electrical grid and internet connectivity, and railroad switches to disrupt Russia’s supply chain to its military.
The official website of the Kremlin was down on Saturday, along with numerous other government and state media websites. The party responsible for the cyberattacks on the Russian government is not clear; however, multiple independent hacking groups, including Anonymous, have vowed to get involved, defend Ukraine, and do what they can to cripple the Russian government.
Anonymous has ongoing operations to keep .ru government websites offline, and to push information to the Russian people so they can be free of Putin's state censorship machine.
We also have ongoing operations to keep the Ukrainian people online as best we can.
— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) February 26, 2022
Anonymous encourages other hacktivists to fight against President Putin and defend the Ukrainian people. It is aligned with “Western allies” and has declared “cyberwar with Putin.” On the other side is Conti, a state-sponsored group operating out of Russia. It posted on the Dark Web, saying, “the Conti Team is officially announcing full support for the Russian government. If anybody will decide to organize a cyberattack or any way activities against Russia, we are going to use our all possible resources to strike back.” Belarusian state-sponsored attackers are also targeting Ukrainian military personnel with a phishing campaign, according to the Ukrainian Computer Emergency Response Team.
Threats To the U.S.
Cybersecurity experts warn the United States may be the next target of the Russian government’s cyber operations. But are we prepared for it? The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, launched by a Russian-based cybercriminal group, exposed how vulnerable our critical infrastructure is. Even if our government is equipped with the proper defense and cybersecurity tools, private companies are on their own to keep their networks secure. Incidents such as Solarwinds and Colonial Pipeline prove how easy it is to disrupt everyday life and cause detrimental issues in the United States.
President Putin vowed to bring the full force of punishment against any and all western countries that attempt to get in his way. The severe threats from the Russian leader legitimize the concern over facing cyberattacks. However, even if the Kremlin does not condone malicious activity immediately, that does not mean it won’t come in the next few months. Sometimes the effects of cyberattacks are not noticed or felt until weeks after malware is planted in a network. The United States will have to continue to monitor the situation live but prepare for anything to come in the future.
~ Read more from Keelin Ferris.