When Russia sent its troops into Ukraine last month, many information security analysts also expected cyber warfare to intensify to unprecedented proportions. However, so far there is no destructive cyberwar.
The attacks on Ukraine began even before the introduction of Russian troops on February 24. A few hours earlier, some Ukrainian government systems had been infected with a data-destroying viper. However, despite this, the critical infrastructure of the country (communications, Internet, medical systems, etc.) remains intact.
According to Trey Herr, a researcher at the Washington-based Atlantic Council scientific organization, there is a theory that the decision to send troops to Ukraine was made at the highest level and did not leak through the chain of command until it was too late to deploy serious cyber attacks, which can take months to organize.
If Russia planned to quickly complete the special operation in Ukraine, it could have deliberately decided to keep part of the infrastructure in its interests, according to Khanna Malekos Smith, a system engineer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In addition, Russia could have penetrated some networks, for example, telecommunications systems, in order to intercept data.
According to Lauren Zabierek, a specialist in the field of cybersecurity in international conflicts at Harvard Kennedy School, Russia is holding back cyber attacks to prevent their spread outside Ukraine, which could cause a response from the West. In 2017, Russian hackers launched the NotPetya malware through an accounting program used by Ukrainian companies. However, it exploited a widespread vulnerability, so it quickly spread around the world, paralyzing the work of many large enterprises, including the Danish logistics giant Maersk, and causing $10 billion in damage.
Russia can also hold back more destructive cyber weapons for later, according to Malekos Smith. If the physical conflict comes to a standstill, and sanctions begin to put too much pressure, cyber attacks may intensify.
Non-governmental hackers and hacktivists who may not calculate their strength can also contribute to the escalation of cyberwar.
Currently, many analysts consider cyberattacks to be espionage or sabotage, and not military actions. Although Russia may want to cause damage to reflect the consequences of sanctions, it is unlikely to cross the line that will provoke the right of states to self-defense, according to Malekos Smith.
In case of physical damage, countries such as the United States are ready to respond in all possible ways. According to the National Cyber Power Index, assigned by the Robert and Renee Belfer Center for Science and International Relations, Russia’s cyber power is lower compared to the United States, China and the United Kingdom. According to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Alliance, an attack in cyberspace on at least one NATO country means an attack on everything. If this happens, Russia will be attacked from all fronts.