Cyberwar, considered the next generation of war, has been growing in intensity, severity, and frequency for the past several years and will only continue to do so. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is one that has been heavily influenced by this new method of warfare, as just hours before Russian troops initially invaded Ukraine, the country was hit by malware that is designed specifically to wipe data. Ultimately, cyber war is already here, and right from the first days of 2022, hundreds of cyberattacks were launched against Ukraine. More specifically, in January, hackers disabled nearly 100 Ukrainian government websites in a situation where malware was used that has the ability to remotely trigger an attack.
These threats are serious, and countries close in proximity have begun to take action against them. In February 2022, the FBI asked US companies to tell them about “any increased [cyber]activity against Ukraine or US critical infrastructure.” In addition, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a “shields up” alert, which recommended that all organizations adopt a heightened cybersecurity policy during these times.
The most targeted countries in recent years are Russia, Ukraine, and the US, rankings which were only solidified when in March 2022, there were more than 6 billion potential cyberattacks worldwide in a single 24-hour period. However, while these attacks have the potential to be devastating, experts say that for Russia, the war with Ukraine is likely acting as a testing ground for the country’s next generation of cyber weapons. Speculation leads us to believe that this is because Ukraine’s technology infrastructure is similar to Western Europe and North America, but they have limited resources for any type of counter-attack, making it the perfect opportunity for practice attacks.
Many countries around the world, but especially Russia and Ukraine, are no stranger to these types of attacks, as the most notable ones date back to 2015. That year, suspected Russian hackers disabled the electricity for 230,000 customers in Ukraine. In 2016, a similar attack targeted Ukrainian government agencies and financial establishments, and in 2017, an attack wiped Ukrainian computers belonging to the financial, business and power grid sectors.
Now, in present day 2022, the United States and the European Union have both provided support to bolster cyber defenses in Ukraine, but reports say that the cyberattacks are unlikely to stay within borders. Ukraine has been making efforts to counter-attack by causing chaos and capitalizing on any Russian vulnerability, however, these efforts are more likely to be the source of collateral damage and further unrest.
Across the world, cybersecurity is one of the biggest threats. In the US, 32% of technology executives say that defining a national cybersecurity protocol should be a top priority. In order to create and build these defenses, though, the nations must understand what cyber war will look like. Both digital and physical assets are on the line in terms of cyber crime, as in 2021, data breaches and cybersecurity attacks cost companies millions per breach, which is a 10% increase from 2020. In addition, the pandemic has only increased the potential for damage from these cyberthreats. More people are working from home or on unstable personal or public networks, more information has been moved to the cloud, and more services than ever are being provided digitally.
Both cyber attacks, and the more severe cyber war are threats that are being taken seriously by nations across the globe. Cyber attacks have the potential to shut down electrical grids and destroy vital technology like steel mills, gas pipelines, and centrifuges. On a more severe side, cyber war could have an impact equivalent to the damage caused by a natural disaster.
Japan and China are amongst the most secure countries for cyberwar attacks, but this has not stopped citizens from taking action to protect themselves from potential threats. Reports show that 90% of potential cyberattacks are distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which makes many vital resources unavailable to users.
These statistics have led many to take preventative measures, like updating software, backing up documents, saving information offline, changing important passwords, stashing cash reserves, and installing generators and other resource storage spaces.
The lines of the battlefields are blurred due to the introduction of cyberwar, causing many countries from East to West to take action to protect their citizens at home and abroad.