The Evolution Of Russian Cyber Warfare

Documents from a Russian intelligence subcontractor provide insight into the Kremlin's cyberwar objectives and potential long-term threats to Western organisations.  

Where Russia may fall behind other countries around the world regarding military capabilities and combat resources, it's continued cyber espionage and information warfare campaign has been developed to balance out power with the rest of the world. 

This technological battle, which is usually conducted remotely, without a spy ever leaving their home country has become the future of warfare.

The current war in Ukraine is the largest military conflict of the cyber age and the first to incorporate such significant levels of cyber operations on all sides. Russia launched its war on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, but Russian cyber-attacks against Ukraine have persisted ever since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, intensifying just before the 2022 invasion.

Over this period, Ukraine's public, energy, media, financial, business and non-profit sectors have been on the frontline. SinceFebruary 2022, Russian cyber attacks have undermined the distribution of medicines, food and relief supplies.

In 2022 the Russian company NTC Vulkan suffered a data leak, involving thousands of pages of secret documentation related to Moscow's cyber and information operations capabilities, highlights Russia's obsession with social control and non-kinetic interference. Thousands of pages of secret documents reveal how Vulkan’s engineers have worked for Russian military and intelligence agencies to support hacking operations, train operatives before attacks on national infrastructure, spread disinformation and control sections of the Internet.

An unhappy employee of a contracting firm associated with Russian military and security services leaked over 5,000 documents to a German newspaper, including manuals, reports, and software specification sheets, dating from 2016 to 2021.

The documents detail applications and database resources developed by NTC Vulkan for use by Russian intelligence agencies, revealing links to known threat actors like Military Unit 74455 know as Sandworm.

One document links a Vulkan cyber-attack tool with the hacking group Sandworm, which the US government said twice caused blackouts in Ukraine, disrupted the Olympics in South Korea and launched NotPetya, the most economically destructive malware in history. Codenamed Scan-V, it scours the Internet for vulnerabilities, which are then stored for use in future cyber-attacks.

Capabilities & Tools

The leak provides insight into tools geared towards large-scale attack preparation and automated disinformation dissemination. Among these tools are "Skan-V" or "Scan," an information gathering application for operational reconnaissance, and "Amezit" and "Krystal-2B," both focusing on offensive operations against critical infrastructure targets and automating disinformation campaigns.

The Vulkan leak demonstrates Russia's blended public-private digital security apparatus and an iterative evolution of its cyber warfare capabilities.

Vulkan's close relationship with the state military-intelligence organs is similar to Moscow's connections with cyber criminal organisations, acting as private incubators of cyber warfighting capacity.

Information Confrontation

Russian cyber developments align with the concept of "information confrontation", non-standard methods of engagement to produce coercive leverage while avoiding escalation. Tools like Scan and Amezit reflect Russia's commitment to information control and scaling tactical effects to secure strategic gains.

The Vulkan leaks contradict various narratives of Russia's digital retreat from the open internet, emphasising the need for vigilance and preparation.

Workforce diffusion from companies like NTC Vulkan to global technology firms poses potential insider threats. Employers should scrutinize those with employment history in the Russian economy and restrict access to critical systems.

Russia's cyber capabilities target sector- and firm-specific vulnerabilities on a large scale. Defensive efforts must adapt to this evolving attacker perspective. As Russia's cyber capabilities evolve, their influence campaigns become more traceable.

By understanding Moscow's unique political-strategic calculus, businesses can better combat the influence of incubation farms like NTC Vulkan.

Conclusion

The NTC Vulkan leaks highlight the evolving nature of cyber warfare and the need for businesses to adapt to emerging threats.

By understanding Russia's unique cyber strategies and implementing proactive defense measures, businesses can better protect themselves from the implications of cyber warfare and maintain a secure operating environment.

EU Parliament:      Carnegie Endowment:     ICTFF:      Small Wars Journal:     Guardian:    CSO Online:  

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