In the era of modern warfare, cyber-attacks have become an important strategy to dismantle opponent’s critical infrastructure and their military strategies. Russia and Ukraine have entered a new era of confrontation, characterized by cyber warfare transcending the conventional frontlines. The conflict has witnessed a series of cyber operations followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia had been launching cyber-attacks on Ukraine even before its invasion of Ukraine to cripple its government and military system.

Keeping in view the cyber dimensions of the conflict, it is evident that Russia has been following an offensive approach persistently against Ukraine exploiting it strategically, destabilizing its critical infrastructure, societal fabric and software supply chains.

By the pervasive use of cyber tactics, Russia aims to get access to critical military, economic and political intelligence of Ukraine to gain leverage over Ukraine in the war. Conversely, with the aid of the US and its Western allies, Ukraine has maintained a resilient defensive position against Russia to safeguard its national interests.

Ukraine has been employing counter cyber-attacks along with its cyber operations to shield its government systems, vital infrastructure, and citizens from Russia’s aggressive cyber assaults. Assistance from entities like U.S. CNMF and technological giants like Google and Microsoft strengthened Ukraine’s cyber defence system, enabling swift response times to cyber assaults.

Russia always practices its technological abilities with an exemption. However, Russia is involved in high-profile cyber activities. Other countries like China and America have hidden policies and strategies regarding cyber activity. However, Russia’s cyber actions are apparent. Federal security service used to manage the operation led by the cyber department but now GRU is managing the cyber activities. GRU has made cyber operations more offensive.

The geopolitical interests of Russia compel the state to do cyber-attacks on Ukraine. Offensive cyber activities of Russian intelligence aim to gather political, military and economic information.

Some relative changes held by civilian foreign intelligence are named as SVR, which focuses on the hidden policies and spying strategies in cyber security and actions. The example of Solar Winds cyber-attack was not detected for about nine months and it was come to knowledge in 2020.

Russia was very strategic in this attack. Only 18,000 customers of Solar Winds were attacked who downloaded the compromised software update. Solar Wind’s operation was very secretive. Russia has become very precise and offensive in its cyber-attacks.

According to Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) 2023, Russians have recently increased their cyber-attacks against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure websites. Every day, Russian hackers launch more than ten cyberattacks on Ukraine. Furthermore, CERT-UA reported a rise in espionage attacks, emphasizing the importance of having ongoing access to organizations. Russian hackers’ malware mostly focuses on data collecting and remote access to victims’ devices. According to CERT-UA, these assaults might be intended to gather information that could offer an edge in a conventional conflict against Ukraine, such as data on mobilization and Western armament shipments.

During the conflict, Ukraine’s persistent strategy was to defend its government’s critical infrastructure, banking systems, citizens and military from Russian cyber-attacks. This was an important aspect of Ukraine’s natural resilience against an active and offensive opponent, Russia. At the end of 2021, when Russian armed forces were marching along Ukraine’s borders, Ukrainian officials sought help from the “U.S. Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF)” to assist Ukraine’s cyber operators in monitoring Russia’s hostile cyber activities.

U.S. Cyber National Mission Force deployed one of its finest and largest cyber-operator groups named “Hunt-Forward”.

The group was based on defensive cyber-operators and intelligence analysts from the U.S. Marine and Navy aimed to defend Ukraine from cyber operations.  The operation was also named as “Hunt-Forward Operation” and carried inside the Ukraine along with the Ukrainian officials to defend different critical networks of the state.

Western technological firms were also there to rescue Ukraine in different ways from the ongoing Russian cyber-operations. Google was providing a protective shield to the Ukrainian authorities against the malicious cyber-attacks. Hundreds of Ukrainian organizations and authorities were using this service provided by one of the largest tech firms in the United States. Microsoft was also supporting Ukraine’s cyber forces in identifying threats and attacks to the state. Microsoft also helped the Ukrainian official by gathering some secret information from Russian intelligence. Ukraine also gathered its hacktivist group to defend their country and to deface the domain of Russian websites.

The head of the State Special Communication Services of Ukraine, Mr. Shchyhol claimed in September 2023 that Ukraine managed to withstand this cyber-war because of the cyber system our hacktivists built and our Western partners who helped us in countering the Russian cyber-attacks. Ukraine’s young tech volunteers built a cyber system named “Griselda” that gathers situational intelligence information using Russian social media. This was a great development from Ukraine’s side to help its military and intelligence authorities.

Cyber warfare plays a pivotal role in shaping the geopolitics and socio-economic landscape in the international realm. National security goes hand in hand with the employment of a strong cyber defence system as observed in the case of Ukraine.

The aggressive cyber operations by Russia were curtailed by Ukraine due to its resilient cyber defence system. The Russia-Ukraine conflict unravels the changing face of war, underscoring its ramifications on the state’s security and sovereignty.

The evolution of warfare in the domain of cyberspace necessitates the implementation of robust defensive measures to counter cyber-attacks and safeguard the critical infrastructure, government institutions and citizens of the state. The development of international frameworks in cyberspace is also crucial in this regard to mitigate the anticipated cyber threats.

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