Soldiers are fighting in Ukraine not only on the front lines, but also in cyber warfare. The owner of a high-tech company offers $100,000 to hack into Russian servers, while Putin-friendly hackers change the websites of Ukrainian offices and publish false information about the fall of Kiev. What is hybrid warfare, what are the cyber threats and how can we ensure cyber security?
Modern warfare is not limited to the clash of soldiers, tanks, planes and helicopters. Warring factions also use cyberbombs. Cyber warfare (hybrid warfare) begins before military action begins, i.e. in peacetime.
Famous words of Carl von Clausewitz: “War is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means”. If the Prussian general is right, cyber warfare is warfare by other means than direct combat with soldiers.
Cyber warfare is part of information warfare. Many experts believe that in practice it is cyberterrorism: attacks on the computer or network infrastructure of an enemy state.
Another manifestation of cyber warfare is internet trolls who create and spread fake news, for example on social networks.
It is not possible to list all types of cyber warfare. Much depends on the creativity and technical skills of the warring parties.
Which countries wage cyberwar?
The world powers most likely to wage cyberwar are the US, China and Russia.
One in four hackers in the US works for the FBI, and the CIA data leak (2016) confirmed that US intelligence agencies use specially designed tools to hack into smartphones, TVs, cars or computers to keep tabs on people around the world.
However, we must not forget that cyber attacks are also a tool for smaller and weaker states, such as Israel, Ukraine and North Korea. Hybrid warfare is a way to level the playing field in a conflict with a potentially stronger opponent.
Who can be the target of cyberwarfare? Cyber
For the aggressor, the purpose of war is to force his opponent into submission. Cyberwarfare is another way of imposing one’s will on another state.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a good example. For the generals, cyberwarfare is “a continuous process leading to the maximum weakening and disintegration of the enemy’s society and state structures”. Russian doctrine says the following about information warfare.
The instrument of this war can be cyberterrorism, and the target can be any part of the telecommunications infrastructure of a declared enemy state.
Cyber warfare – examples :
Attacks on critical infrastructure, including those responsible for energy, fuel, food, water, medical services, transportation or manufacturing services.
Attacks on election systems,
Destroying software on infected computers,
The use of troll farms to create fake news and fake/manipulated comments on social media.
Cyber attacks in recent years
Governments rarely acknowledge cyber attacks. Often there is no proof of guilt and the (often justified) suspicions remain:
The 2007 cyber-attack on Estonia – the largest of its kind attributed to Russia and directed against the state (before the escalation of the war in Ukraine) – completely cut Estonia off from the internet,
American and Israeli officials were behind the attack on the computer system of the Iranian nuclear power plant with the Stuxnet worm (2010),
Russian hackers were accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
Cyber attack carried out by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad against Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility (2021),
China-based groups attacked US defence and technology companies (2021).
The most recent and largest example of cyber warfare is the escalation of Russian aggression against Ukraine in February 2022.
Cyberwar against Russia
The Russian cyber “conflict” included mass marketing of Ukrainian government websites, sending fake emails/text messages, and DDoS attacks against military, government and banking websites in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has asked the hackers to respond. The owner of the Ukrainian company Cyber Unit Technologies has offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who hacks into Russian computer systems. The international group Anonymous has also launched an attack on Russian servers.
Moscow’s war against Kiev has been waged in cyberspace for years. Cyber Future, an Irish think tank writing about wireless and fibre broadband, lists Russia’s actions as follows
Obstruction of the 2014 presidential election,
Attacks on the power grid in 2015 and 2016,
NotPetya campaign (in 2017, the attack crippled businesses and governments around the world; in Ukraine, the targets were state-owned enterprises, including ministries, banks, railways, metros, airports and petrol stations),
The US has blamed the global attack on Russia, attacking a water treatment plant in 2018.
The attack was launched in 2018.Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a popular tool.
Hackers send a large data packet to a web server, causing internet services to slow down or stop (e.g. websites crash). It is often difficult to determine whether a DDoS attack is being carried out by criminal hackers or by hackers working for the government.
Cyberterrorism and state-sponsored cybercriminals
The cyber attack against Estonia in 2007 was launched by the Russian Business Network, a group specialising in cybercrime. “Russian agencies turn a blind eye to the fact that when an attack on the network is needed, their botnets are used,” he says.
“Between October and December 2021, Kaspersky researchers observed a record increase in DDoS attacks during the period we monitored these activities.” – The anti-virus software maker said. The largest number of attacks targeted servers in the US (about 43%), China, Hong Kong, Germany and France.
How many of these attacks are manifestations of cyber warfare is an open question.
Cyber warfare. Anonymous Who are the hackers fighting Putin?
It is not only states that have a monopoly on cyber warfare. This is demonstrated by the unofficial international hacker group Anonymous, whose members hide behind the masks of Guy Fawkes from the comic strip and the film V for Vendetta.
Anonymous activists began making jokes on the Internet in 2006, but soon began attacking dictators who oppress their citizens. The hackers – or cyberterrorists, as some call them – target regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“We are officially in cyberwar against the Russian government,” Anonymous said in February 2022. They quickly demonstrated their skills, including hacking into databases of Russian ministries, breaking into Putin’s yacht, taking down 1,500 websites in Russia and Belarus and blocking the official website of the FSB, Russia’s intelligence agency.
Meanwhile, some underground hackers have sided with Russia. In Strategy&Future, Błażej Kantak predicts a war between the Conti group and anonymous hackers. The results are already visible: the structure of the Conti Group and the personal data of its members have been leaked on the Internet.