Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine on three fronts early Thursday, Feb. 24, “bombarding cities, towns and villages” as forces advanced toward the Eastern European country’s capital of Kyiv.
Now, Anonymous, a renowned international hacker group, has declared a cyberwar against Russia, which is accused of its own cyberattacks against Ukraine. President Biden has also reportedly been given options for “massive cyberattacks” to target Russia and complicate its invasion.
But what could a cyberwar look like?
Probably nothing like you’d imagine seeing in the movies. Patrick Juola, professor of computer science and cybersecurity studies coordinator at Duquesne University, told McClatchy News that “we are not going to see any sort of weird sci-fi dystopia stuff.”
“I don’t know of anyone with the capacity to take over self-driving cars and send them into buildings,” Juola said. “Even military drones are on special secure networks to keep them safe.”
Alongside its military invasion, Russia has been blamed for undermining Ukraine’s cybersecurity, CNBC reported. The reported cyberattacks, aimed at both the banking system and government in Ukraine, included malware that can wipe clean data from any targeted organization and a DDoS attack on Wednesday, Feb. 23, that crippled websites of Ukrainian government agencies and financial institutions.
The Russian Embassy in the U.S. rejected these “baseless statements of the administration” and said that “Russia has nothing to do with the mentioned events” and “has never conducted and does not conduct any ‘malicious’ operations in cyberspace.”
Still, Victor Zhora, the deputy chairman of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, told Politico that Ukraine’s government is “preparing to wipe its computer servers and transfer its sensitive data out of Kyiv if Russian troops move to seize the capital.”
Anonymous has joined the cyber conflict in support of Ukraine, announcing on Feb. 24 that it was “officially in cyberwar against the Russian government.”
The following day, the group announced that the Russian Ministry of Defense website was down.
The group took to Twitter to take credit for targeting Russia’s websites. In a video addressed to Russia President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 26, the group asked Putin to “restore the rights of the Ukrainian people and resign as an elected official.”
“Anonymous has ongoing operations to keep .ru government websites offline, and to push information to the Russian people so they can be free of Putin’s state censorship machine,” the group posted. “We also have ongoing operations to keep the Ukrainian people online as best we can.”
On Feb. 26, Anonymous said it hacked into Russians’ TVs to broadcast the “reality of what is happening in Ukraine.” Forbes and The Kyiv Independent, an Ukrainian newspaper, reported that Russian TV channels had been hacked and were now broadcasting Ukrainian songs.
Ukraine is not the only government feeling the threat of potential cyberattacks. Several world leaders have issued warnings and worry of a potential “cyberwar.”
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the U.S. government, issued a warning on its website.
“Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which has been accompanied by cyberattacks on Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure organizations, may have consequences for our own nation’s critical infrastructure, a potential we’ve been warning about for months,” the agency said.
The agency said that while “there are no specific or credible threats to the U.S. homeland at this time,” it is aware of “the potential for Russia’s destabilizing actions.”
CISA advised every organization to be “prepared to respond to disruptive cyberactivity.”
John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence analysis at Mandiant, said that a cyberwar is “very possible,” but added that “most of the cyberattacks we’ve seen have been nonviolent, and largely reversible,” CNBC reported.
Hitesh Sheth, CEO of Vectra AI, a company that uses artificial intelligence to detect cyberattacks, told the news outlet that Russia could “launch retaliatory cyberattacks in response to Western sanctions.”
Scott Jasper, senior lecturer in national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, warned in The Conversation that the Russian government does have the capacity to “damage critical U.S. infrastructure systems.”
In 2020, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service hackers gained access inside “at least nine U.S. federal agencies and around 100 private companies, many in information technology and cybersecurity,” he said. The hackers went unnoticed for months.
Hackers can overload bank and government websites, corrupt data, shut down power from energy and electric utilities, among other things, Jasper said.
“It’s impossible to be certain there aren’t more Russian government hackers lurking undetected in critical companies and systems in the U.S.,” Jasper said in The Conversation. “And wherever they are, they may have the ability to cause substantial damage.”
It is also important to remember that Anonymous is very skilled, Juola said.
“One of the biggest things they can do is keep Putin from telling people inside and outside Russia the lies he needs to tell to keep the situation under control,” he added.
But he doesn’t believe the American public will be affected much.
“Anonymous is focused on Russia and is scattered all over the world. Putin and the Russian military are focused on Ukraine,” he said. “Russian hackers might be able to crash Google.com – but it wouldn’t help Russia out.”
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