US military hackers have conducted offensive cyber operations against Russia in support of Ukraine, the head of the US Cyber command has revealed.
General Paul Nakasone, who is also the director of the US National Security Agency (NSA), said “a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations” have taken place in support of Ukraine.
Nakasone did not reveal further details of the operations, but said in an interview with Sky News they were “lawful, conducted with complete civilian oversight of the military and through policy decided at the Department of Defence”.
The general praised Ukraine’s response to the sustained cyberattacks it has faced. “If you take a look at the destructive and disruptive attacks they have encountered, this is something that has been ongoing. We have seen this with regards to the attack on the Viasat satellite systems, wiper attacks and disruptive attacks against their public access.”
He added: “This is the kind of piece that I think is sometimes missed by the public. But I think their resilience is perhaps the story that is the most intriguing to all of us.”
Will US face retaliation for cyberattacks against Russia?
US cyberattacks on Russia could prompt retaliatory strikes on American infrastructure. Russia has already shown it is willing to hit back against Ukraine’s allies, with hackers from Russia-supporting group Killnet targeting the Romanian government with a DDoS attack in April. Romania has provided humanitarian support to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict.
In April, the Five Eyes security alliance, which includes the US and the UK, warned that a Russian attack on infrastructure could be imminent.
General Nakasone said: “We remain vigilant every single day. Every single day. I think about it all the time. This is why we’re working with a series of partners to ensure we prevent that, not only against the United States but against our allies as well.”
Experts believe the probability of such an attack on the US is low, however. Speaking to Tech Monitor earlier this year, Franz-Stefan Gady, a fellow at security think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies said he believes it is unlikely that Russia will target the US.
“First, because US retaliation against Russian critical infrastructure would be massive,” Gady explained. “After all, the US remains the number one offensive cyber power in the world.”
Secondly, Russia “likely has no intention to deplete its most sophisticated cyber arsenals and wants to husband them for future confrontations with the West,” he said.
Last month, UK attorney general Suella Braverman said that the country could lawfully launch ‘defensive’ cyberattacks against states that threaten its critical national infrastructure.