A senior Pentagon official said Wednesday that Russia’s cyber personnel were “underperforming” during the first invasion of Ukraine, leading it to end up relying less than expected on digital attacks during the now-month-long conflict.
Speaking at the Aspen Cyber Summit, Mieke Eoyang, the deputy deputy secretary of defense for cyber policy, said Moscow was “unprepared for the conflict to go on for so long,” noting that the Kremlin had sacrificed “intensity and sophistication” in order to be Rebuild arsenal and avoid potential conflicts that would involve NATO.
“We need to understand how these factors play against each other,” Eoyang told the audience.
Her comments come as the war nears its ninth month. And while Russian groups have been blamed for ransomware attacks and other malicious activities against Kyiv, major attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure, like the power grid, have not happened.
That absence, Eoyang said, should prompt the US and other nations to reconsider how offensive cyber capabilities could be used in warfare.
“We need to think very differently about how we think about armed conflict and cyber in light of this conflict,” she said.
In Ukraine, “the context of armed conflict dwarfs the cyber impact,” she said. “Things that the Russians tried to cyber disrupt didn’t have the strategic impact they wanted and they tried to physically destroy those things.”
Eoyang added that the Defense Ministry has experience in maintaining secure government communications, but the war in Ukraine has brought new challenges. In Ukraine, communications between the population must be secure and consistent, along with important government functions and data.
“This is the first conflict we’re seeing where people’s ability to tell their stories and their experiences of armed conflict is very diverse, and the information space here is a very different environment than what we’ve seen before .”
For months, the federal government has been urging the private sector and its own agencies to maintain their “shields” against possible Russian digital attacks stemming from Moscow’s attack on its former Soviet satellite state — a stance Eoyang says should be maintained.
“We see what happens when Russia is forced to make decisions about how to allocate the cyber capacity at its disposal,” she said. “I don’t think any of us know what the escalation calculus will be, at which point we might really need to think about attacks on US infrastructure… But it’s really important that we take all the steps we can.” prepare.”
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