The yr of struggle in Ukraine reveals the altering roles of cyberweapons

On the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, Ukraine commemorates appalling losses – and remarkable resistance.

The country’s fierce resistance on the battlefield found its echo on the digital front – where Kiev has a unique experience. The conflict with Russia has become the world’s first full-scale cyber war, but Ukraine was a testing ground for digital weapons long before the February 24, 2022 invasion. Cyber ​​tactics have changed dramatically since Putin’s troops began pouring across the border.

These developments have made Ukraine a pioneer in digital warfare. And to the surprise of analysts, cyberattacks had limited impact over the past year.

“We will consider cyber activity as a pre-emptive tactic for a physical war.

In the run-up to the invasion, cyber attacks were in the foreground. On February 15, Russian hackers launched the most powerful DDoS attack in Ukraine’s history. A day before the full-scale invasion, several government and banking websites were again attacked.

However, in the months that followed, reports of major cyberattacks declined. Zachary Warren, Chief Security Advisor EMEA Tanium and regular NATO advisor sees this as a sign of digital warfare.

“In the future, we will see cyber activity as a pre-emptive tactic for a physical war… it’s a tool to weaken a target before it invades,” he said.

The Ukrainian government, meanwhile, claims that Russia’s goals have changed. In a January report, security officials said the cyberattacks initially focused on Ukraine’s communications department, which aimed to disrupt military and government operations. But after Russia’s first defeat at the front, the focus shifted to maximizing damage to civilians.

Remarkably, officials found that All attacks had used previously known techniques.

“The attacks deployed by Russia have long been categorized and have simple countermeasure solutions,” the report’s authors said.

Analysts found that cyberattacks peaked in the run-up to the invasion. Photo credit: Crowdstrike

Many analysts expected cyberattacks to become more frequent and devastating. Adam Meyers, intelligence chief at security firm CrowdStrike, believes Russia was counting on a quick and decisive victory. As a result, the Kremlin might have avoided destructive cyberattacks at first because it needed Ukraine’s infrastructure to shore up a friendly government.

“When Russian operations failed to capture Kiev and advance as quickly as planned, we saw more tactical cyber operations coupled with kinetic effects targeting Ukraine and did not see broad attacks against the West – as we had all prepared.” , Meyers said.

The chart below shows Cloudflare's view of daily traffic (by number of requests).Cloudflare found hUman’s internet traffic fell by as much as 33% in the weeks following February 24, but has recovered as Ukrainian refugees have returned to the country.

The modest effect of Russia’s cyberweapons was not for lack of testing. In January, Viktor Zhora, a senior official at Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency, said cyberattacks in the country had tripled over the past year. Zhora wants them digital attacks be prosecuted as war crimes.

Despite the rush, UKraine’s networks have remained remarkably resilient. Analysts give much credit to Ukraine’s repair teams, its widespread connectivity to networks outside the country and its large number of Internet exchange points.

Some experts argue that digital weapons are simply less effective than physical warfare, while others believe Russia’s capabilities have been overestimated.

Another factor is Ukraine’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its defenses. The protracted conflict with Russia has resulted in immense experience in defending against cyber attacks.

“That made us stronger,” Zhora said last year. “We have learned our lessons from this cyber aggression.”

There are more lessons to be learned, but Ukraine already has much to teach its allies about cyber warfare.

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