Russia's Cyber War in Ukraine: Why Are the Attacks So Few and Ineffective?
A Closer Look
Commentary | Analysis
With Russia's invasion of Ukraine dragging into its seventh month, the question of why Russia has launched so few and ineffective cyber attacks against Ukraine and its sympathizers has become a perplexing issue.
Russia is known to be a major cyber warfare power, along with countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Iran, and North Korea.
So why hasn't Russia utilized its sophisticated cyber capabilities to their full potential in this conflict?
The concept of cyber warfare is not new. It has been evolving as computers have become more sophisticated.
In 2010, the suspected US/Israeli Stuxnet virus infected the computers at an Iranian nuclear weapon plant, causing the centrifuges used to enrich uranium to spin out of control and destroy themselves. This was a significant milestone in the world of cyber warfare.
According to cybersecurity firm Mandiant, Russia was launching cyber attacks against Ukraine even before its tanks rolled across the border. However, these attacks were not the large-scale operations many experts had anticipated.
Instead, they were low-key but sophisticated operations conducted by hacktivists and organizations with connections to Russian intelligence services. There were also attacks launched by proxy sympathizers in other countries, such as Brazil.
The initial attacks involved the use of wiper malware, which erases the hard drives of infected devices. These attacks targeted multiple government, non-profit, and information technology organizations in Ukraine.
Another attack involved malware called Gamaredon, which targeted not only Ukraine but also Ukrainians and associated targets around the world.
When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 a cyber attack was launched at over 10,000 satellite internet modems belonging to American satellite firm Viasat. This attack, traced back to Russia by the U.S., British, and EU governments, was followed by widespread cyberattacks on Kyiv-based media and a missile strike on Kyiv's television tower.
However, despite these initial attacks, Russia's cyber warfare efforts have been surprisingly limited in scale and impact. One possible explanation is that Russia may be cautious about launching large-scale cyber attacks due to potential retaliation from other countries that possess similar capabilities.
For instance, the United States has been known to respond aggressively to cyber attacks, as seen in its actions against Russia following the 2016 U.S. presidential election interference.
Another explanation could be that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been more focused on traditional ground combat rather than cyber warfare. The offensive has become a prolonged and challenging conflict for Russia, and its attention may be primarily directed toward maintaining control over the occupied territories.
The reasons behind Russia's limited and ineffective cyber attacks in the war with Ukraine remain unclear. It could be due to a cautionary approach to avoid invoking retaliation or a strategic focus on traditional ground combat.
Regardless, the outcome of this digital battle for Ukraine may have far-reaching implications for the future of cyber warfare.