US Military Involved In Ukraine's Cyber Defences

Just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia attempted to take down Ukrainian government computer systems with a massive cyber attack. The attempt failed, despite many Western analysts predicting that Russia would succeed with a pre-invasion cyber attack on Ukraine.

Indeed, Western intelligence agencies observing the Russian military preparations predicted that cyber attacks would accompany an invasion, crippling communications, power, banking and government services, to pave the way for the seizure of power.

It has now emerged that a division of the US military, which hunts for adversaries online, may have contributed to the Russian failure.

In early December last year, a small US military team arrived in Ukraine on a reconnaissance trip ahead of a larger deployment. The US military Cyber Command wanted to discover whether Russian hackers had already infiltrated Ukrainian systems, hiding deep inside. Within two weeks, their mission became one of its largest deployments with around 40 personnel from across US armed services.

The infiltration of computer networks had for many years been primarily about espionage, often stealing secrets, but recently has been increasingly militarised and linked to more destructive activities like sabotage or preparation for war. This has created a new role for the US military, whose teams are engaged in "Hunt Forward" missions, scouring the computer networks of partner countries for signs of penetration. 

The US military asked for some operators to remain anonymous and others to be identified only by their first names due to security concerns.

Since 2018, US military operators have been deployed to 20 countries, usually close allies, in Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific region, although not in the UK, Germany or France, which have their own expertise and are less likely to need external help. Most of their cyber defence and attack work came after invention from China and North Korea, but Russia has been their most persistent adversary. 

Even countries allied to the US can be nervous about allowing the US to root around inside sensitive government networks. In fact, revelations from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden 10 years ago suggested that the US spied on friends as well as enemies.

US Cyber Command offers an insight into what the Russians, or others, are up to, particularly since it works closely with the National Security Agency, America's largest intelligence agency which monitors communications and cyberspace.

NCSC:     YCombinator:     BBC:    Business Telegraph:     Sky:      Head Topics:     Flipboard: 

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