Russia a potential cyber power has been involved in a wide range of cyber attacks and espionage activities. Russia had a history of cyber-attacks along with the physical i.e. Russian Georgian war of 2008, the Estonia attack of 2007, and in 2014 Crimea are such examples. Over the period of time, we have witnessed the transformation of Russian military doctrine and warfighting strategy including cyber as a weapon to achieve their objective. Russian war-fighting strategy has evolved with the advancement of technology. In December 2015 Russian attack on Ukraine, the power grid in December 2015, put almost 1.4 million people into the dark for about six hours. It was the first time any foreign power has attacked the critical infrastructure of any other state. Moreover, this cyber-attack further highlights the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure.
There has been seen a sharp rise in cyber attacks on Ukraine after the Russian invasion. These attacks were not successful as they were before. Therefore, the question rises here whether Russia had not utilized its full cyber potential or Ukraine with the help of the western allies has buildup its cyber defense. Russia launched a cyber war before the invasion but still failed to inflict any potential damage. There are two contesting viewpoints about this. First, one argues Russian cyber war/attack had reached its maximum potential and there is little space available for growth. Second, one is that despite the fact, the Russian cyber attack has improved from the previous attack due to the involvement of western cyber specialists Ukraine successfully defend its cyberspace against Russian cyber aggression. Russian along with Belarus intelligence and private hacker carried out massive cyber operations against Ukraine since the beginning of the war. The main objective of these cyber operations is to paralyze the information system, spread fake information and propaganda to demoralize the Ukrainian army, and exploit societal cleavages to achieve their goal. Diya App a state-run application exploit its computer network vulnerabilities and stole the confidential information of the private firms, businesses, government institutions, law firms, and 2.6 million individuals. In this war, Russian forces used cyber attacks in conjunction with kinetic. As argued
“In Ukrainian war Russian military is using an integrated approach using both physical and cyber attacks in an integrated way”.
Russian cyber attacks focus on disrupting and discrediting the working of the Ukrainian government, critical infrastructure, and public access to information. From February 23 to April 08, Russian hackers have stolen a large amount of data. Moreover, at the end of April and mid of May 40 percent of cyber attacks were carried out against critical infrastructure including, communication systems, electricity grid, and military infrastructure. According to a report by Microsoft, threat intelligence, Russian cyber espionage was not limited to Ukraine but they had also targeted 42 NATO members and about 62% of their cyber espionage activities were against western countries. Ukraine one of the former Soviet republics had a strong cyber community and was known for cybercrime. Global cybercrime index Ukraine ranked among the top 10 countries and for hacking and cyber attack ranked among the top 15. Ukraine despite being on the weaker side has successfully defended its cyberspace with the help of western cyber experts. Ukraine has learned from its experiences and its cyber defense become mature which is why Russian hackers failed to inflict any potential threat to the Ukrainian system. Moreover, active support from western cyber experts and volunteers hacker also helps Ukraine in defending cyberspace.
While analyzing the nature of cyber attacks against Ukrainian and Ukrainian cyber defense strategy to protect cyberspace from Russian cyber aggression. Following are the methods used by Ukrainian to defend cyberspace.
The cyber defense started with the blockades of the entryways into the computer network. The sophisticated methods used by a hacker are spearfishing and engineering techniques and clicking/opening unknown emails or documents to protect multifactor password authentication was used. Russian hackers exploit the inbuilt vulnerabilities of Microsoft but Ukrainian authorities had learned from their experiences and as soon, as they found this they fixed quickly and moved away from using pirated software. Another method through which Ukrainian successfully defended against Russian cyber aggression is through drill and cooperation. Ukrainian was continuously cyber drilling while cooperating with its western allies. The Ukrainian government was continuously updating its software, trying to improve security loopholes, and providing new features for data protection. A firewall is another way to protect your data from unauthorized access. It protects your data at several levels and determined the level of protection your device needs. A firewall is a gatekeeper of your device. It acts as a monitor of the whole system and not only keeps a check on internet traffic but also blocks unauthorized access. In the current time, data is the new oil. Protection of sensitive and confidential data from enemy cyber attackers, the cyber professional criminal is very important. If we look at the history of cyber-attacks from the early 1990’s “Moon Light Maza”, “Solar Sunrise”, and “Rain of Titans” the main objective was always stealing and exploiting sensitive and confidential, sensitive, and personal information. Therefore, to protect your data it is very important to have a regular backup of data stored on different devices like USB, Hard Drive or Google Drive.
Muhammad Shahzad Akram is a Research Officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) AJK. He holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from Quaid I Azam University, Islamabad. His research interests are Cyber Warfare, Cyber Security, and RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) and Israel.