HomeTechThe Ukraine conflict has exposed the limits of cyber warfare

The Ukraine conflict has exposed the limits of cyber warfare

It’s safe to say that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine hasn’t gone to plan. Russian forces are suffering mounting setbacks, after underestimating the resistance of his adversaries  — and that’s just in cyberspace.

The Kremlin’s hacker army – like its conventional military – hasn’t lived up to its fearsome reputation. At least, not yet. 

Analysts have offered an array of explanations for Russia’s cyber limitations. They range from upgrades to Ukraine’s defenses to changes in the Kremlin’s tactics. 

“Be afraid and expect the worst.”

The early signs were ominous. Ever since armed conflict in the Donbas erupted in 2014, Russia-linked hackers have bombarded Ukrainian IT systems. Their exploits have set several alarming milestones, from the first known power outage caused by a digital weapon to the costliest cyberattack in history

The lead-up to the full-scale invasion escalated concerns. After January peace talks ended without a breakthrough, hackers splashed a menacing message across Ukrainian government websites: “Be afraid and expect the worst.”

The cyber threat escalated as Russia’s armed forces advanced. As troops prepared to flood across the border, a cyber attack struck a satellite internet network run by Viasat, a US-based communications firm.

Viasat’s services cover both military and commercial markets. On February 24, hours before Russia invaded Ukraine, hackers struck the company’s modems. The attack caused outages for a communication system used by Ukraine’s armed forces, as well as regular consumers. Initial reports indicated the attack severely constrained the military’s ability to coordinate operations. Russia, as usual, denied responsibility.

The incident sparked fears that a catastrophic cyber war had begun. Ukrainian officials, however, recently said the attack had little impact. In September, Victor Zhora, the deputy head of Ukraine’s main cybersecurity agency, said only a backup military communications service had been affected.