Who thought that Anonymous vs Russia would be the top billing cyber event of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? We watch in horror and disgust as Russia continues its assault on the Ukrainian people. Tanks roll down streets, missiles are launched, neighborhoods are shelled and innocent civilians are killed. Some things never change in war.
As each new conflict begins in our modern age, in addition to military weapons being used, it is inevitable that we also now must consider the other weapon at the disposal of Vladimir Putin: Cyber Warfare.
Russia, which has a history of launching cyberattacks against other countries, particularly Ukraine, could shut off power (as they did in 2015 and 2016), disrupt communications, destroy technology capabilities (as the NonPetya malware attack did in 2017) and cause further chaos and hardship in the lives of Ukrainians. At this writing, there have been some Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and malware attacks, but the effects have not been as devastating as past attacks.
In addition to the government-sanctioned hackers, cybercriminals and hacktivists have become involved. This includes the infamous hacker collective known as Anonymous, who has claimed credit for several cyber incidents in the Anonymous vs Russia battle. This includes DDoS attacks that have shut down Russian government websites and Russia Today. The hackers were able to post pro-Ukraine content, including patriotic songs and images from the invasion – something the average Russian citizen would never see on the state-backed news service.
Russia Today openly attributed the problems with its website to Anonymous, and claimed the attacks came from the US. Of course, the major concern is that Russia will not only turn their cyber sights on Ukraine, but on any country imposing sanctions or otherwise openly supporting Ukraine. So far, the cyber activity has been limited, but that could change and many warn that the US and others should be on high cyber alert, especially for those in critical sectors such as finance and health care.
A slew of other players have entered the field, from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter banning content by Russian state media to Elon Musk providing satellite internet access to Ukraine via his Starlink satellites to Ukrainian citizens forming an “IT Army” to launch digital attacks that take down sites sharing Russian propaganda.
There are two major longer-term concerns about the “open season” for hackers this has created. One is that due to the urgency of this crisis, there is a strong possibility of digital errors and unintended consequences, such as excessively destructive malware or unintended collateral damage. Hacking events by non-governmental entities could also be mistaken for government-backed hacks and lead to escalating retaliation that could force the United States (and Allies) into a larger, ongoing cyber conflict with Russia.
The most eye-opening aspect of the conflict is the realization that cyber warfare is being used in a hostile act of war for the first time. In addition to theaters of war on land, in the air, on the water and from space, there is now the additional arsenal of cyberattacks that will change warfare forever.
John Sileo is a sought-after keynote speaker who focuses on the human elements of cybersecurity, including the implications for cyber warfare. His clients include the Pentagon, Homeland Security and Charles Schwab. Bring John in to educate and engage your group on how to avoid the disastrous data breach headlines that destroy profits and reputation. 303.777.3221 to learn more.