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The world holds its breath for Putin’s cyberwar

The escalating warnings of a Russian cyberattack on the U.S. cut against one of the war’s most perplexing mysteries: Why has the Kremlin held back from unleashing its full hacking might against Ukraine?

Before Vladimir Putin launched his invasion a month ago, security experts warned that the coming conflict could redefine cyber warfare — both for Ukraine and for the United States. But so far, cyberattacks have been of limited importance in a war that Russia has waged using tanks, rockets, missiles and bombardments of civilians.

“I’m one of those people who over the years has been saying [the next war] would be so much cyber,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe. “Instead it’s been almost medieval what we have seen, not just sort of a cyber juggernaut that I had expected.”

This could quickly change: President Joe Biden said Monday that cyberattacks from an increasingly desperate Russia are “coming,” while urging U.S. businesses to “harden your cyber defenses immediately.”

Dmitri Alperovitch, the co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, said that despite the lack of major attacks so far, cyber warfare could still be on the horizon.

“I do believe that cyber retaliation will still come. I think right now they are still preoccupied with prosecuting this war in Ukraine that is not going well,” Alperovitch said of the Russians.

For now, though, “We’ve seen some cyber operations against Ukraine since the conflict started, but not nearly as many as we would have thought,” said Ciaran Martin, the former CEO of the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre.

“The idea that war was moving online primarily, which has been put around for a quarter of a century … certainly at this point in 2022 is not accurate,” Martin added. “Those who would be pushing that sort of line I think have been pushing a version of cyber that doesn’t exist.”

So far, hacking assaults on infrastructure in Ukraine have been far less than what everyone acknowledges Russia is capable of.

Shortly before the invasion began Feb. 24, a series of attacks temporarily disabled Ukrainian government websites, one of which was blamed on Russian intelligence services by the Biden administration and the United Kingdom. Ukraine’s government has also linked a Belarusian hacking group to malicious emails sent to Ukrainian military officials, and destructive malware wipers have been found in Ukrainian government and private sector organization websites.

Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, told reporters at the White House on Monday that Russia is continuing to conduct cyberattacks “to undermine, coerce and destabilize” Ukraine, pointing to the February website attacks.

But it is paradoxical that even as the Russian military has bombarded civilians across the country with bombs, missiles and artillery, blasting apartments, shopping malls and evacuation corridors, its cyberattacks have been limited in scope. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been able to hold video calls with the governments of several NATO countries detailing his nation’s needs. And even ordinary Ukrainians have been able to share videos of physical devastation by relying on functioning communications infrastructure. Ukrainian leaders have focused on requests for weapons and air power to fight back physically, rather than fighting Russia in cyberspace.

Both Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and committee member Angus King (I-Maine) told WEBICNEWS this month that they did not know the reason behind the lack of cyberattacks, with King adding that he “really wanted to get the answer.”

Without inside knowledge of Putin’s state of mind, it’s impossible to definitively figure out the relative importance of these factors. But here is the evidence for each of them:


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