Amid the height of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine , concerns about unprecedented cyber warfare are growing . Experts are closely monitoring both sides, fearing serious conflicts in cyberspace, the damage from which may exceed the damage from physical battles.
Earlier, US President Joe Biden said that the US is “ready to respond” to any attacks on critical infrastructure. At the same time, many are afraid of the “digital Pearl Harbor”. However, according to experts, so far the cyber front is relatively calm.
The fear of cyberwar did not arise from scratch. International experts have repeatedly accused the Russian Federation of carrying out cyber attacks. In particular, Russian hackers allegedly linked to the government of the Russian Federation are accused of large-scale cyber attacks on Ukrainian electric power companies in 2015-2016 and the distribution of malware NotPetya in 2017.
In addition, hackers who do not work for the government are associated with a number of serious cyber attacks on large companies, including the American fuel giant Colonial Pipeline in 2021.
Since January 2022, 70 Ukrainian websites have been defaced, and cyberattacks have also been carried out separately on several ministries, also attributed to the Russian Federation.
Although these attacks were “significant and unprecedented,” they are “not yet catastrophic,” said Aaron Turner, a specialist at the California-based information security company Vectra. According to him, this is due to the fact that neither side wants to be the first to “throw a stone in the third World War.”
“Most likely, we have reached a kind of detente when both sides understand that catastrophic cyber attacks are likely to lead to mutually guaranteed destruction of systems,” Turner told The Guardian.
In addition, the powers are now better prepared to prevent attacks than before, so perhaps some larger hacks have been stopped, experts say. The US has invested billions in cyber defense from both private and public sources. Ukraine has spent the last seven years since the attack on the power grid in 2015, strengthening its infrastructure.
White House Senior Information Director Theresa Payton accused Russia of investing more resources in coordinated disinformation campaigns. According to Glenn Gerstell, the former chief adviser of the US National Security Agency, the fact that Russia preferred disinformation to destructive cyber attacks did not come as a surprise. Attacks on infrastructure would be seen as “equivalent to physical attacks using bombs or missiles,” while propaganda is in a gray area.
“These are all actions located below the line of actions that can be considered military, but they are still malicious and very dangerous,” Gerstell said.
Python also noted that the absence of destructive cyber attacks now does not mean that they will not happen later. Many covert operations, especially large-scale ones, take time to deploy. For example, in the case of SolarWinds, Russian hackers began attacking the company in March 2020, whereas this became known only in December 2020.
“There may already be incidents that we don’t know about yet. In the case of Russia, I always say, if nothing happens yet, you still need to be on your guard,” Python said.