24 June 2022

Intel chair ‘amazed’ Russia hasn’t launched full-scale cyberwarfare


Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Monday he was surprised Russia hasn’t launched more destructive cyberattacks against Ukraine and the West despite having the capability to do so.

“I am still relatively amazed that they have not really launched the level of maliciousness that their cyber arsenal includes,” Warner said during a cyber webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Many cyber experts and U.S. intelligence officials predicted that Russia would launch massive cyberattacks, especially following crippling economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe, but so far those predictions haven’t materialized.

Warner predicted on Feb. 28 that Russia would launch cyberattacks “in the coming days and weeks.”

In the lead up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine was hit by several cyberattacks that targeted government websites, including the parliament and the foreign affairs and defense ministries.

Warner said that the cyberattacks thus far in Ukraine are “relatively mild” and said he had asked U.S. intelligence officials to explain “why we haven’t seen the real [Russian] A-team.”

“In the cyber domain, we know the Russians are first rate,” Warner said, adding that he was surprised that “they’ve not launched a Petya-type attack with software that includes worms that go from one network to another.”

Warner added that although the intelligence officials he spoke to do not have a definitive answer on Russia’s cyber strategy, they offered two potential reasons for its recent restraint.

For one, the Russians probably assumed that they would win the war in Ukraine relatively quickly, making cyberattacks an alternative war option. Second, the Russians are probably choosing not to use destructive cyberattacks that can completely damage Ukraine’s critical infrastructure because it can be expensive to rebuild it.

However, Warner warned the U.S. to stay vigilant in case the Russians decide to up their game on cyberwarfare.

Warner also said that he was concerned in the early days of the invasion that Russia could launch an “expansive cyberattack” that could cross over to Poland — a NATO member — triggering Article 5, which says that an act of war against any member will trigger a response from the full alliance.

“So far we’ve not seen that effort of bleeding into other geographic areas,” Warner said. “I hope that will remain the same.”

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Monday pressing him on the U.S.’s readiness for Russian cyberattacks amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“As we stand with the Ukrainian people, imposing crushing sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s regime, and push for additional security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself, we also must work to secure the homeland from retaliatory cyber activities,” the senators wrote.

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