Internet on Kremlin Service
A classic Cold War era scenario of armed aggression of Russia against NATO or EU members is long gone. Everyone understands that with a modern day balance of nuclear weapons this can only lead to a global extinction of human race on planet. But the confrontation between Russia and the rest of the civilized world did not ceased to be, it merely took different forms. This is acknowledged by a new Russian war doctrine, which the head of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov commented: “The very rules of the game has changed”. And the deputy head of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation department of new challenges and menaces A. Krytitskih was even more clear: “We will not use the nuclear weapons, this is a weapon of mass holocaust. But when we have millions hacker attacks against our money, out private computers, that means we have a new form and a new level of confrontation.”
Kremlin assessed the possibilities of cyber space and started a real war in Internet. In one day cyber war became a new danger for civilization. Russia has different tactical goals: to split EU and USA from the inside, to change a political agenda there, to get access to a classified data of NATO military structures, and so on — but there is only one strategic goal, which is: a total control over all political and economic processes in the countries which Russia considers to be a sphere of its interest.
The manifestations of Russian cyber terrorism (and that’s how we should interpret the usage of computer communications to reach the goals) can be seen anywhere. A promotion of Texas and California independence idea through the fake Russian-controlled pages in Facebook. Encouragement of separatist movement in Catalonia and Scotland. Hacking of the US Democratic Party messaging by a Russian intelligence. Fake Russian Facebook accounts in US and Europe alike encourage the disagreements between the supporters of both right and left political platforms, setting them up against their own governments. The main goal of such activities is to spread the mistrust to the government structures, to undermine their legitimacy, to a promote the ideas of EU members states and US separation by ethnic, religious or any other criteria to be a natural thing — thus staging their disintegration. As Kremlin political experts think, the promoting of ideas of independent Catalonia, Scotland, Texas and California will provoke the escalation of internal conflicts in EU and NATO, will make them vulnerable, which will create a real preconditions to a fragmentation.
In fact, at this moment Russia conducts the tests of its cyber weapons and other hybrid tools, polishing their methods on such countries as Ukraine. A cyber-attack by Russian hackers in June of 2017 against the Ukrainian critical infrastructure objects already proved to be effective in staging of collapse of bank, energy, social spheres in one country. Luckily, it was possible to avoid victims, or emergency situations connected to a disruption of radiation monitoring systems on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, or the disruptions in energy supply for the citizens. But there is no confidence that Russian leadership will not (sooner or later) decide to test the true resilience of Europe and USA against “hybrid war” tools. A Digital Pearl Harbor, a hacker attack on the crucial infrastructure of the whole nation: energy networks, systems of oil and natural gas supply, water supply systems, communications — this can be an unpleasant reality.
The goals and directions of Russian cyber aggression is already changing: from the theft of data and attacks on computer stability — to attempts of infiltration into the military security systems, or getting data from air traffic control services, financial structures and the data of public community services.
It is no surprise that throughout the whole world the number of incidents connected to cyber espionage and computer attacks against important objects of national infrastructure is growing, and Russia is often blamed to be affiliated to these.
One of the most prominent incidents happened back in April of 2007, when Estonian government accused Russia of conducting a series of cyber attacks which brought down web sites and data networks of such institutes as Presidential Administration, Ministries, Parliament and police, also a web resources of some political parties. Aside from this, news portals and banks became a targets of attack.
IN the early January 2015 hackers of pro-Russian organization “Cyber Berkut” conducted an attack on web sites of Bundestag and German Chancellery, effectively paralyzing their work for few hours. Later they explained that their cyber attack was provoked by Germany providing a financial support of Ukrainian government.
In May of 2015 an unknown hackers used a virus program to attack the Bundestag database and got the full administrator rights over all computers of German Parliament, as well as login database of all deputies and employees. According to German tabloid “Bild”, hacker attack used the same computer virus which was used in early April of 2015 against the French TV channel “TV5”, which led to paralyzing of channel’s works for few days. American computer security company FireEye considers that the hackers behind this attack were Russian hackers, which had a direct connection to Russian government. An evidence for this might be that the program code was written on Cyrillic keyboard, and the time of attack perfectly matches the usual working hours of offices of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In January 2016 pro-Putin network group “Evacuation Squad” took a responsibility for messages about bombs supposedly planted in the schools of Great Britain and France. Their tweet had a statement: “We do what we do because of several reasons. We hate American government, we hate any government, and we LOVE to create mayhem.” And though in the end police have not found any suspicious devices, six prestige schools of Paris and 14 schools in West Midlands, London and Cornwall were evacuated. During the inspection of schools the Twitter profile @Ev4cuati0nSquad posted tweets with pictures of Putin viciously smiling and the fragment of flag associated with a “Hezbollah” Islamist group.
During the presidential elections of 2016 and after those American intelligence came to conclusion that hackers working for Russian government used cyber attacks to undermine the positions of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and improving the chances of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. In February 2018 Robert Mueller, a Special Counsel for the Department of Justice, presented the court with a 37-page document with a detailed proofs of interference into American voting process of at least 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies.
In June 2017 in Ukraine the attack by NotPetya virus happened, a result of which was disruption of computers in private and government organizations and banks. Then the attack spread into Europe and the rest of the world, disrupting the work of ports, factories and offices, causing a harm for billions of dollars. White House, following the Great Britain, accused Russia for this attack.
Another eloquent fact: according to the US Identity Theft Center, in 2017 alone over 700 cases of data leakage happened, when the private information became absolutely public. According to American experts, there is a clear Russian trail here.
By the dynamics and the nature of cyber crimes we can see that the focus of Russian hackers and their Kremlin supervisors is aimed at the infiltrating of Trojan viruses and similar malware, which presence is not obvious to the computer user, but which make a million of computers into a kind of cyber soldiers, which start an attack by the simple pressing of a button.
As James Lewis, a director of Technology Policy Program for Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of the new and preferred Moscow tactics is to provide the criminal groups with advanced tools for hacking, and with computer viruses, to later hire them for conducting operations against the opponents, or for the so-called “operations under third country flag”, to make it harder to identify the source of attack.
But the information aggression of Russia does not limit itself with hacker attacks, they are merely a separate strategic line. Spreading of Russian propaganda onto the Western democratic countries which fell into the Kremlin sphere of interest —this would be one of the most important spheres of informational war.
In January of 2018, Julian King, a European Commissioner for the Security Union, directly accused Russian government in the spreading of disinformation in Europe in his article in the German “Die Welt” newspaper: “Russian military is using Internet as a new battlefield, using the false information as a weapon.”
In this aspect, a results of studies if Russian propaganda on Ukrainian citizens may be of interest — these were conducted by docents of Political Science Department of New Your University Leonid Peisakhin and Arturas Rozenas, which were published by “The Washington Post”. Studying the disinformation campaign about events of 2014 in Ukraine across Russian television they reached a conclusion that even though Russian TV propaganda had a small effect onto voting results in different constituencies, it still succeeded in creating a political schism in Ukraine, bringing people on both sides of political specter to the extreme. Based on this, authors of the study suggest that the Russian meddling with presidential elections of 2016 in USA not only had an aim in encourage citizens to vote for Trump, but also to provoke a political schism, to saw a mistrust in presidential candidates and the US political system as a whole.
Underestimating the resources of Russian cyber aggression is very dangerous, as at some point the Russian covert cyber attacks against Western countries may well result in civilian victims and potentially to turn into an open military confrontation in the real world. A modern war doctrine of Russia, for example, provides for a future conflicts in which the war is not declared at all: instead the aggression is evolves gradually. Unfortunately, Western governments are slow to realize the degree to which the cyver space changes the very definition of the war.
Of course we cannot state that West does not react at all on cyber threats from Russian Federation.
General Keith Alexander, a former commander of United States Cyber Command, a chief of Central Security Service and a director of National Security Agency stated clearly that “USA will react on computer attacks in the same way as on any other attacks. New doctrine of Pentagon calls to elevate a cyberspace to a traditional battlefronts of air, land, water and space, and to strengthen the cyberdefense of government structures and private sector.”
But despite US President proclaiming the protection of computer networks to be a national priority, the influential The Washington Post considers that federal government is slow in crucial questions of how to protect its computer networks, and the private networks deemed to be critically important for USA security. American critics also state that bureaucrats did not improved security risks and did not estimated the scale on which the government should regulate the private sector or how to cooperate on these tasks to guarantee that telecommunication companies, energy systems and other important industry will be protected from hacker actions.
All the mentioned just emphasizes the vulnerabilities of computer world. Everything, from flight security to internet banking to e-mails and social media can be a target of Russian experts on cyber attacks and aggressive propaganda.
And Europe together with USA must assess this side of Russian threat and direct all the resources for the uncompromised fight against such manifestations of “hybrid” information war of Russia as attempts of manipulating by the public opinion with fake news, online propaganda, hacker attacks, and computer viruses spreading.
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