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Russia could cyberattack US to distract from Ukraine invasion, DHS warns

Hacked computer code. (PxHere/Released)
January 25, 2022

The Department of Homeland Security warned on Sunday that Russia may launch cyber attacks on the U.S. in order to hinder an American response to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a memo to critical infrastructure operators, state and local governments, obtained by CNN, the DHS said Russia would consider launching cyberattacks in the U.S. if it felt a U.S. or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) response to an invasion of Ukraine “threatened [Russia’s] long-term national security.”

“Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could employ against US networks—from low-level denials-of-service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure,” the DHS memo warned.

The heightened cybersecurity threat comes as Russia has gathered around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders for months, with signs of a potential invasion.

If Russia were to launch destructive cyberattacks against the U.S., coinciding with an invasion of Ukraine, it could theoretically hinder the U.S. reaction to the invasion.

“In a globally connected world, conflicts are no longer geographically isolated,” former DHS official Paul Rosenzweig told USA Today. “As DHS is warning, Russia may respond to U.S. actions in support of Ukraine by using offensive cyber tools against U.S. networks.”

Suspected Russian hackers have previously cut power in parts of Ukraine in 2015 and 2016. Last week, the Ukrainian government accused Russia of again using cyberattacks to disable Ukrainian government websites in recent weeks.

Last year, ransomware hackers shut down the Colonial Pipeline, which carries about 45 percent of the fuel supply for the east coast and southern regions of the U.S. The Colonial Pipeline hack was carried out by the suspected Russian-based Darkside cybercriminal group. The Colonial Pipeline outage lasted five days and resulted in fuel shortages along the east coast.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN, that Russia has continued to grow its cyber capabilities in recent years.

“I am concerned that Russia has been using Ukraine as a sort of testing ground for its cyber capabilities,” Warner said.

“For years, I’ve been making the case that we need rules of the road in cyberspace, just like we have defined norms around armed conflict,” Warner added. “We need to ensure that the Kremlin knows that if they were to use destructive cyberattacks against the United States, there would be serious consequences.”

John Hultquist, the vice president of threat intelligence for the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, recently said, “The crisis in Ukraine has already proven to be a catalyst for additional aggressive cyber activity that will likely increase as the situation deteriorates,” USA Today reported.