While the last 24 hours have provided some ease in tensions regarding the ongoing Ukraine crisis, with reports that Russian forces may be beginning to dismantle at the Ukrainian border, a new cyber offensive based around DDOS attacks has surfaced. But whether or not Russian forces actually invade Ukraine, western nations should be more than concerned with the recently announced Russia-China alliance that’s declared a “new era” in geopolitics.
According to reports, under the new cooperative, the US will be challenged as the world’s top global power. But even if the Ukrainian situation should once again heat up and spiral out of control, there is little potential for any conventional Russian military operations directly against the US.
The danger for the us actually lies in the fact that both China and Russia have been engaging in reconnaissance hacking that gives both nations an ability to remotely attack American targets for upwards of a decade.
The presence of new President Joe Biden has seemed to usher in an increasingly aggressive posture in the territorial ambitions of both China and Russia over the past year. While Russia has long desired to reclaim Ukraine, the former Soviet Republic that previously boasted the world’s 3rd largest nuclear stockpile, the Chinese have turned up the heat on Taiwan due to the perception of US weakness in the aftermath of the Afghanistan pullout
Even President Trump has weighed in on the subject, as the former president told Michael Savage on Tuesday that, “The problem that we have is that we’re not respected as a country anymore,” .
While any Russian attacks against Ukraine would be met with force from NATO, the Kremlin, potentially with support from China, could initiate a widespread cyber offensive in retaliation. And if the Russian/Chinese alliance continues to find new allies, cyber powers Iran and North Korea could join the fray.
For the past few weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) have continually issued warnings of potential cyberattacks. The legitimate fear of new cyber warfare operations are based on years of consistent cyberattacks coming from both China and Russia’s intelligence agencies, assisted by their respective state-sponsored hacking groups known as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).
These government affiliated groups have continually conducted reconnaissance cyber operations, including the talked up SolarWinds hack, and have acquired a treasure trove of intelligence as a result.
Russian APT Group Nobelium were behind the SolarWinds attack, and were able to penetrate private sector companies like cybersecurity firm FireEye, in addition to several US Government agencies like DHS and the Treasury Department. Nobelium also cracked entities in the energy and infrastructure sectors.
Although there was some confusion initially regarding who may have been responsible for the attack, experts eventually identified the attack as Russian based on its resemblance to Russian hacks against Ukrainian targets in the Petya/NotPetya attacks of 2015-2016. Like SolarWinds, those attacks also touched virtually every sector of the Ukrainian economy, and the Russian hackers also used an update to a commonly used software program as the entry vector to install malware.
Chinese government hackers also pose a similarly dangerous threat to America. In 2018, Chinese state-sponsored hackers penetrated a US Navy contractor working with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. This attack happened 3 years after NBC published an NSA map that revealed “more than 600 corporate, private or government ‘Victims of Chinese Cyber Espionage’ that were attacked over a five-year period, with clusters in America’s industrial centers.”
This document also cited examples of the Chinese hackers gaining access within America’s critical infrastructure which has occurred again on many occasions recently. If that intelligence is leveraged today, it may potentially have a catastrophic impact against the US from the other side of the world.
During a February 14th conference call, DHS and the FBI briefed state and local government entities and cybersecurity personnel on the signs of Russian activity on their networks. Regardless of whether Russia attacks Ukraine or not, it is imperative that the US tightens up its cyber defenses as to not provide countries at a militaristic disadvantage with any equalizers.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by numerous websites and he is regularly seen on National and International news programming.