Photo courtesy of securelist.com.

Could Ukraine Become A Flashpoint For Cyberwar?

Photo courtesy of securelist.com.

Cyberattacks have already made appearances in past Russian conflicts.

Government websites in Estonia were shut down during anti-Russian protests in 2007, and Internet connections were shut down during the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.

The Russian government denied involvement in both of these cases.

Now, in Ukraine, there are reports of unidentified men sabotaging Internet and phone lines – a primitive form of cyberwar.

Russia only recently announced plans to create a cybercommand, which the U.S. has had since 2009.

However, as pointed out in a paper (pdf) by the Potomac Institute, there’s a unique confluence in Russia of the army, government-sponsored groups and criminal elements, all of which are capable of carrying out cyberattacks to Russia’s benefit.

This fits into their overall military strategy of information warfare, which calls for “prior implementation of measures of informational warfare in order to achieve political objectives without the utilization of military forces,” according to the Potomac paper.

U.S. capabilities

Even as the Ukrainian situation grows increasingly tense, the U.S. is unlikely to risk combat with nuclear-armed Russia through intervention. But could there be other methods?

The U.S. has already demonstrated its capabilities with the somewhat successful Stuxnet worm, which temporarily took down thousands of Iranian nuclear centrifuges.

Whether or not the nation would be ready for attacks in reliation is another question, however (which we speculated on here). At a hearing last week, U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander said he was worried that our defenses are inadequate.

Capabilities have been expanding in recent years, with the latest budget approving billions of dollars in funding and the recruitment of thousands of cyberwar operators.

However, the rules of engagement for cyberwar are still loose at best, according to Politico – the administration even rejected their use in the Libyan war and as a possible Syrian intervention.

The offensive capability exists – the question is whether the U.S. is willing to use it.

Ole Skaar