Cyberspace operations now officially has a physical dimension, meaning that the United States has official military doctrine about cyberattacks that also involve an actual human gaining physical access to a piece of computing infrastructure.
A revised version of Joint Publication 3-12 Cyberspace Operations—published in December 2022 and while unclassified, is only available to those with DoD common access cards, according to a Joint Staff spokesperson—officially provides a definition for “expeditionary cyberspace operations,” which are “[c]yberspace operations that require the deployment of cyberspace forces within the physical domains.”
“Developing access to targets in or through cyberspace follows a process that can often take significant time. In some cases, remote access is not possible or preferable, and close proximity may be required, using expeditionary [cyber operations],” the joint publication states. “Such operations are key to addressing the challenge of closed networks and other systems that are virtually isolated. Expeditionary CO are often more regionally and tactically focused and can include units of the CMF or special operations forces … If direct access to the target is unavailable or undesired, sometimes a similar or partial effect can be created by indirect access using a related target that has higher-order effects on the desired target.”
“Allowing them to support [combatant commands] in this way permits faster adaptation to rapidly changing needs and allows threats that initially manifest only in one [area of responsibility] to be mitigated globally in near real time. Likewise, while synchronizing CO missions related to achieving [combatant commander] objectives, some cyberspace capabilities that support this activity may need to be forward-deployed; used in multiple AORs simultaneously; or, for speed in time-critical situations, made available via reachback,” it states. “This might involve augmentation or deployment of cyberspace capabilities to forces already forward or require expeditionary CO by deployment of a fully equipped team of personnel and capabilities.”
Posted on May 26, 2023 at 7:12 AM •
Now this is interesting:
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.
The company’s work is linked to the federal security service or FSB, the domestic spy agency; the operational and intelligence divisions of the armed forces, known as the GOU and GRU; and the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence organisation.
Lots more at the link.
The documents are in Russian, so it will be a while before we get translations.
EDITED TO ADD (4/1): More information.
Posted on March 30, 2023 at 6:00 PM •
The Aspen Institute has published a good analysis of the successes, failures, and absences of cyberattacks as part of the current war in Ukraine: “The Cyber Defense Assistance Imperative Lessons from Ukraine.”
Cyber defense assistance in Ukraine is working. The Ukrainian government and Ukrainian critical infrastructure organizations have better defended themselves and achieved higher levels of resiliency due to the efforts of CDAC and many others. But this is not the end of the road—the ability to provide cyber defense assistance will be important in the future. As a result, it is timely to assess how to provide organized, effective cyber defense assistance to safeguard the post-war order from potential aggressors.
The conflict in Ukraine is resetting the table across the globe for geopolitics and international security. The US and its allies have an imperative to strengthen the capabilities necessary to deter and respond to aggression that is ever more present in cyberspace. Lessons learned from the ad hoc conduct of cyber defense assistance in Ukraine can be institutionalized and scaled to provide new approaches and tools for preventing and managing cyber conflicts going forward.
I am often asked why where weren’t more successful cyberattacks by Russia against Ukraine. I generally give four reasons: (1) Cyberattacks are more effective in the “grey zone” between peace and war, and there are better alternatives once the shooting and bombing starts. (2) Setting these attacks up takes time, and Putin was secretive about his plans. (3) Putin was concerned about attacks spilling outside the war zone, and affecting other countries. (4) Ukrainian defenses were good, aided by other countries and companies. This paper gives a fifth reason: they were technically successful, but keeping them out of the news made them operationally unsuccessful.
Posted on February 23, 2023 at 7:27 AM •
Interesting paper by Lennart Maschmeyer: “The Subversive Trilemma: Why Cyber Operations Fall Short of Expectations“:
Abstract: Although cyber conflict has existed for thirty years, the strategic utility of cyber operations remains unclear. Many expect cyber operations to provide independent utility in both warfare and low-intensity competition. Underlying these expectations are broadly shared assumptions that information technology increases operational effectiveness. But a growing body of research shows how cyber operations tend to fall short of their promise. The reason for this shortfall is their subversive mechanism of action. In theory, subversion provides a way to exert influence at lower risks than force because it is secret and indirect, exploiting systems to use them against adversaries. The mismatch between promise and practice is the consequence of the subversive trilemma of cyber operations, whereby speed, intensity, and control are negatively correlated. These constraints pose a trilemma for actors because a gain in one variable tends to produce losses across the other two variables. A case study of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict provides empirical support for the argument. Qualitative analysis leverages original data from field interviews, leaked documents, forensic evidence, and local media. Findings show that the subversive trilemma limited the strategic utility of all five major disruptive cyber operations in this conflict.
Posted on May 31, 2022 at 6:06 AM •
Microsoft has a comprehensive report on the dozens of cyberattacks—and even more espionage operations—Russia has conducted against Ukraine as part of this war:
At least six Russian Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors and other unattributed threats, have conducted destructive attacks, espionage operations, or both, while Russian military forces attack the country by land, air, and sea. It is unclear whether computer network operators and physical forces are just independently pursuing a common set of priorities or actively coordinating. However, collectively, the cyber and kinetic actions work to disrupt or degrade Ukrainian government and military functions and undermine the public’s trust in those same institutions.
Threat groups with known or suspected ties to the GRU have continuously developed and used destructive wiper malware or similarly destructive tools on targeted Ukrainian networks at a pace of two to three incidents a week since the eve of invasion. From February 23 to April 8, we saw evidence of nearly 40 discrete destructive attacks that permanently destroyed files in hundreds of systems across dozens of organizations in Ukraine.
Posted on April 28, 2022 at 9:15 AM •
A Russian cyberweapon, similar to the one used in 2016, was detected and removed before it could be used.
- ESET researchers collaborated with CERT-UA to analyze the attack against the Ukrainian energy company
- The destructive actions were scheduled for 2022-04-08 but artifacts suggest that the attack had been planned for at least two weeks
- The attack used ICS-capable malware and regular disk wipers for Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems
- We assess with high confidence that the attackers used a new version of the Industroyer malware, which was used in 2016 to cut power in Ukraine
- We assess with high confidence that the APT group Sandworm is responsible for this new attack
EDITED TO ADD: Better news coverage from Wired.
Posted on April 13, 2022 at 6:32 AM •
The White House has issued its starkest warning that Russia may be planning cyberattacks against critical-sector U.S. companies amid the Ukraine invasion.
Context: The alert comes after Russia has lobbed a series of digital attacks at the Ukrainian government and critical industry sectors. But there’s been no sign so far of major disruptive hacks against U.S. targets even as the government has imposed increasingly harsh sanctions that have battered the Russian economy.
- The public alert followed classified briefings government officials conducted last week for more than 100 companies in sectors at the highest risk of Russian hacks, Neuberger said. The briefing was prompted by “preparatory activity” by Russian hackers, she said.
- U.S. analysts have detected scanning of some critical sectors’ computers by Russian government actors and other preparatory work, one U.S. official told my colleague Ellen Nakashima on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. But whether that is a signal that there will be a cyberattack on a critical system is not clear, Neuberger said.
- Neuberger declined to name specific industry sectors under threat but said they’re part of critical infrastructure —a government designation that includes industries deemed vital to the economy and national security, including energy, finance, transportation and pipelines.
President Biden’s statement. White House fact sheet. And here’s a video of the extended Q&A with deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger.
EDITED TO ADD (3/23): Long—three hour—conference call with CISA.
Posted on March 22, 2022 at 9:57 AM •
It has been interesting to notice how unimportant and ineffective cyber operations have been in the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia launched a wiper against Ukraine at the beginning, but it was found and neutered. Near as I can tell, the only thing that worked was the disabling of regional KA-SAT SATCOM terminals.
It’s probably too early to reach any conclusions, but people are starting to write about this, with varying theories.
I want to write about this, too, but I’m waiting for things to progress more.
EDITED TO ADD (3/12): Two additional takes.
EDITED TO ADD (3/22): Thomas Rid comments
Posted on March 10, 2022 at 6:06 AM •
Both Russia and Ukraine are preparing for military operations in cyberspace.
Posted on January 5, 2022 at 6:12 AM •
News from Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology:
China Claims Its AI Can Beat Human Pilots in Battle: Chinese state media reported that an AI system had successfully defeated human pilots during simulated dogfights. According to the Global Times report, the system had shot down several PLA pilots during a handful of virtual exercises in recent years. Observers outside China noted that while reports coming out of state-controlled media outlets should be taken with a grain of salt, the capabilities described in the report are not outside the realm of possibility. Last year, for example, an AI agent defeated a U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot five times out of five as part of DARPA’s AlphaDogfight Trial (which we covered at the time). While the Global Times report indicated plans to incorporate AI into future fighter planes, it is not clear how far away the system is from real-world testing. At the moment, the system appears to be used only for training human pilots. DARPA, for its part, is aiming to test dogfights with AI-piloted subscale jets later this year and with full-scale jets in 2023 and 2024.
Posted on June 25, 2021 at 8:53 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.