Often, unraveling the digital threads of these cyber operations can take days or weeks, which is one of the attractions of their use in modern conflict. Sophisticated cyber tools have emerged in clashes between Israel and Iran, and the US has accused Russia of using hacking to influence the 2016 US election to benefit Donald J. Trump.
Understanding the escalation of tensions over Ukraine
Ukraine has long been seen as a testing ground for Russian line operations, a sort of free-fire zone for cyberweapons in a country already embroiled in a real world war with Russian-backed separatists in two provinces from the east. The US government has attributed some of the most drastic cyberattacks of the past decade to Russian actions in Ukraine.
Tactics first seen in Ukraine then cropped up elsewhere. A strain of Russian military spyware called X-Agent or Sofacy that Ukrainian cyber experts say was used to hack Ukraine’s Central Election Commission during a 2014 presidential election, for example, was later discovered on the Democratic National Committee server in the United States after the election hacking attacks in 2016.
Other types of malware like BlackEnergy, Industroyer and KillDisk, intended to sabotage computers used to control industrial processes, shut down electrical substations in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016, causing power outages, including in the capital, Kyiv.
The following year, a cyberattack targeting Ukrainian businesses and government agencies spread, perhaps inadvertently, around the world in what Wired magazine later called “the most devastating cyberattack in history.” “. The malware, known as NotPetya, had targeted a type of Ukrainian tax preparation software, but apparently got out of control, experts said.
The attack initially seemed narrowly focused on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. This coincided with the killing of a Ukrainian military intelligence officer in a car bombing in Kiev and the start of an EU policy granting Ukrainians visa-free travel, an example of the kind of integration with the West which Russia opposed.
But NotPetya has spread around the world, with devastating results, illustrating the risks of collateral damage from military cyberattacks for people and businesses whose lives increasingly take place online, even if they live far from areas. of conflict. Russian companies also suffered when the malware started circulating in Russia.