The cyber-war with the Russians may be about to enter a terrifying new phase. A series of highly sophisticated system penetrations at electric companies and nuclear plants this year has been discovered and traced back to a Russian hacking group.
Alternately called “Dragonfly” and “Energetic Bear”, this group has been involved in about 100 such breaches since the start of the year, half of them in the U.S., according to a new report from the system security firm Symantec.
This finding is worrisome in the extreme. Dragonfly is one of very few hacking groups with specific expertise in the power-grid systems that turn off and on circuit breakers.
A separate Russia-linked hacking operation has twice demonstrated the Kremlin’s ability and willingness to use that kind of expertise to cause electrical blackouts—once in December 2015, and a second time a year later, both in Ukraine.
Symantec believes the U.S. breaches may be moving into similar terrain. Simply stated, this means they can shut our power off and attack us, anytime they want.
“The original Dragonfly campaigns now appear to have been a more exploratory phase where the attackers were simply trying to gain access to the networks of targeted organizations,” the Symantec report concludes. Now, “the attackers may be entering into a new phase, with recent campaigns potentially providing them with access to operational systems, access that could be used for more disruptive purposes in future.”
Meanwhile, Russia has been holding a set of “strategic command exercises” called the Zapad war games that are looking an awful lot like a preparation for war this week, due to run until September 20. Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belorussian service personnel are taking part.
NATO officials, however, have said they believe the exercises involve more troops than Moscow has disclosed. Complaints have been made about the lack of transparency regarding the exercise. It has long been feared that Russia has been planning to use virtual assaults on Western power-grids in order to pave the way for a sudden physical assault.
The world has been experiencing virtual assaults from Russia since April 27, 2007, the day known to history as the Estonian 9/11. They called it Web War One. The problem started over an old war soldier statue, like the Robert E. Lee statue that has caused so much trouble in Charlottesville. We have got to be careful when it comes to those old statues.
In the ten years that have followed, we have seen Russian attempts to disrupt and destabilize the affairs of other countries become more and more of a problem, culminating in their hacking of the United States 2016 presidential election. We have got to place a high priority on finding more effective forms of defense.
In other parts of the world, most notably in Europe, they have been dealing with this problem a long time, and they have developed a number of systems we might look to as models.
The Czech Republic set up a team on Jan. 1. 2017.
The German Interior Ministry has proposed the creation of a “Center of Defense Against Disinformation.”
The Ukrainian organization StopFake.org has accomplished amazing results, tracking down and reverse-engineering Russian propaganda pieces. These have provided us key glimpses into how the Russian disinformation machine operates and what types of methods it uses. Incidents such as Brexit have ensured there will be no shortage of cases to study.
Russia has proven its ability to extend tentacles and roots with terrible speed, and it has done so all over the world in the wake of the massive disruption that has been Donald Trump. Its cyber-warfare apparatus is the digital upgrading of its Dezinformatsiya, or disinformation office, which was formed in 1923. Russia has been experimenting with campaigns of state-sanctioned lying for nearly a hundred years. This is a good thing to keep an eye on.
From the way Russia defines cyberwarfare, to its employment for strategic use, Russia has developed a big edge over its western counterparts. As James Wirtz, Dean of the Naval Postgraduate School in California, has noted, “Russia, more than any other nascent actor on the cyber stage, seems to have devised a way to integrate cyber warfare into a grand strategy capable of achieving political objectives.”
CIA chief Mike Pompeo recently said “It’s tough. You now have not only nation states trying to steal our stuff, but non-state, hostile intelligence services, well-funded. Folks like WikiLeaks, out there trying to steal American secrets, for the sole purpose of undermining the United States and her democracy.”
For all the trouble that Russia manages to cause, and for all its miles and hundreds of millions of citizens, it has an economy about as large as that of Italy. The state of California alone has an economy that is far more robust then Russia’s. In order to make Russia great again, Putin has to find a way to fix that. Redistribution of world wealth underneath his control is what he’s after.
The Russian cyber-warfare apparatus allows him an inexpensive and shockingly effective way to cripple, entangle, and do literal physical harm to the infrastructure of anything that opposes his will.
To understand why these attacks on the rest of us are being committed by Russia, it helps to understand two factors. First, Russia’s domineering and abusive relationship with its former satellite stakes, most notably Ukraine, its largest neighbor to the west. Second, its need to develop a way to compete with NATO in a manner that doesn’t cripple its economy with excessive military expense.
Nuclear deterrence is becoming obsolete, as mutually assured destruction is unpalatable even to the Russians, and new ways are being found to fight. The most ancient struggles for power and dominance are being played out in our very newest world. Cyberspace has become a very dangerous place, but it’s a place we all spend a lot of time in. Therein lies the crux of the problem.
Donald Trump thinks that by not using email, he can protect himself from the dangers of a digital world. But no matter what he would like to think, the solution won’t be found by returning to the golden age of post-It notes and Rolodexes. The computer isn’t going away any more than the firearm.
It is the opinion of Millennial Democrats that going toward the future, U.S. policy should include the immediate and thorough modernizationof the U.S. Cyber Command. After last year, we should take the offensive. An overt, popular, and well- financed American cyber- force would overtake the efforts of the Russians within months.
As soon as our highest office has been vacated by the impeachment of Donald Trump, a man that Putin has been cultivating for five years and is the property of, it will be a top priority to attain world preeminence in this area as well.
America created the Internet, and that makes its governance our responsibility. We consider this a sacred duty, and we will not shirk in its upholding.