Cyber War Wide Open as Ukraine Loudly Pwns Russian Assets

In multiple channels I keep getting updates about a “hidden” cyber war, with “little” visibility” and how “quiet” attacks are when they run over networks instead of roads or through forests.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Ukraine war is the loudest and most obvious integration of cyber (information technology) into conflict I have ever seen.

To be fair, I have studied war for more than three decades and earned two degrees in the topic before spending all my professional life engaged in many forms of hot and cold power disputes related to technology.

Perhaps I see things differently.

It reminds me, for example, of my post about the Allied troops laughing out loud in 1942 about how incompetent Rommel was, versus people today trying to see Rommel as something more than a failure.

Perhaps someday in the future a historian will read the news that I am reading every day now, like I read the news of the past, and wonder who was paying attention.

Let me give an example.

Budanov and I also spoke about the unseen war that is happening over computer networks, and how hackers are now vigorously involved on both sides. This phase of the war began nine days before the invasion, on February 15, when Russian hackers launched an attack on government agencies and Ukrainian banks (“The key issue for the Russians was the disruption of work and the spread of panic”). Recently, he said, Ukrainian intelligence has monitored phishing attacks on his government’s officials by the Belorussian hacking group Ghostwriters, and the Russia-affiliated Fancy Bear group, which also has been blamed for orchestrating the hack of Democratic party e-mails during the 2016 election. Ukraine, he said, has mobilized a large volunteer force of hackers who are targeting their own attacks on Russia’s digital infrastructure.

“Unseen war that is happening over computer networks” is a lot like saying tanks hidden on forested roads.

Did the packet route if no one sniffed it, did the tree fall if no one was there to see? I mean if you aren’t in that forest or standing on that road why would you consider a tank battle anything more than unseen?

Unseen is a word I would use for what is happening in many countries around the world right now being ignored while a very obvious focus is on Ukraine.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the regular updates I see where Russian technology and assets are infiltrated by Ukrainian forces.

…hacking some of Russia’s proudest accomplishments (its space program) and most successful technologies (its nuclear research program), the Ukrainian government is sending Putin a message that your cybersecurity systems cannot keep us out, that even your most valuable technological secrets aren’t safe from us, and that if you push us too far, we can do whatever we want to your networks.

Nobody sending such a message wants that message to be unseen, if you get what I mean.

Here is another one.

Anonymous claims it has hacked Russian state TV and streaming services to air footage highlighting the horrors of the war on Ukraine. The secretive vigilante cyber group late Sunday shared footage of channels that are forced to air pro-Kremlin footage instead showing shocking scenes of missile attacks that killed innocent civilians. A message also told Russians, “This war was waged by Putin’s criminal, authoritarian regime on behalf of ordinary Russian citizens.”

Editing content on Russian state TV. That’s huge.

And of course there have been outages as well.

Confirmed: Various #Russia government websites including the Kremlin, State Duma and Ministry of Defense are again down, with real-time network data showing impact to FSO networks consistent with previous cyberattacks.

Even more interesting, in the most controversial and emerging field of cyber conflict (integrity), is how Ukraine has destroyed propaganda and lies of Russia.

In the Russian world, Chechens have the reputation of being particularly effective soldiers. Throughout the invasion, Kadyrov has released videos on his Telegram channel of bearded Chechen troops in Ukraine engaging in brutal firefights and conducting activities on Ukrainian soil. Some Ukrainians have traced locations in these pictures of Kadyrovtsi, as Kadyrov’s men are known, and highlighted that they are in fact in Belarus, far from the front.

Fact checking as a weapon. Integrity can bring a powerful narrative, using geolocation data like a truth bomb that destroys ground oppressors hope to stand upon.

This is Gordon Parks level stuff.

That [weapon] wasn’t no six-shooter. When Gordon Parks had that camera in his hands, that was a bazooka.

The camera was a weapon in the sense it captured knowledge to be seen more widely. Likewise this war is being fought using information captured and disseminated.

The Chechen narrative again was easily unraveled by Ukraine using geolocation and social proximity data.

Budanov said that his department has tracked a contingent of around 25,000 Chechens since the beginning of the war. “We have many informers inside the Chechen ranks. As soon as they start preparing any operation, we know that from our informants,” he said. “When the war started, Russia underwent lots of casualties, and most of these people didn’t even manage to approach Kyiv.” He pointed out that Ukrainian special forces had engaged with a group of looting Chechens near Kyiv the day before we spoke that was only two strong. “We’ve never seen more 20 or 30 Chechens in one place. The concentration is very low.”

And the reverse also is true. Google Maps disabled detailed information sharing.

In the early days of the invasion, The Washington Post revealed how researchers were using this data to track movements. Road blockages and delays signalled exoduses of people, and potential troop movements. But some fear Google Maps could be used to Russia’s advantage, giving details on how busy certain areas are. Google told Reuters that it had consulted with sources, including “regional authorities”, before making the decision.

This is similar to what we saw last year when Israel was being attacked by Hizbullah, not to mention fifteen years ago.

If anything, Russia is demonstrating to the world that they are ripe for power disruption at every level.

Full of fraud, in-fighting and demoralized looters their troops increasingly are in no position to make sound choices about conflict.

…why would you need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building?

I’ll tell you one good reason Russia would use impractical weapons on a target, I mean besides rank incompetence. Russian systems are being abandoned, going offline or unreliable.

Citing U.S. intelligence, three U.S. officials said the United States estimated that Russia’s failure rate varied day-to-day, depended on the type of missile being launched, and could sometimes exceed 50%. Two of them said it reached as high as 60%.

Nothing about the Ukrainian counter-attacks seem quiet to me. Defense of their country, even using latest technology, is far from being hidden or unseen. I’ve never seen anything louder or more in the open. As much as Russians clearly are incompetent clowns in this war, Ukraine deserves credit for its very loud and successful information warfare.

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