CYBERWARRussia’s Cyber War: What’s Next and What the European Union Should Do.

By Arthur de Liedekerke and Arthur Laudrain

Published 4 April 2022

The EU has made long-term changes which will improve it’s cybersecurity. However, the bloc needs to make a series of short-term changes to guard against potential Russian cyberattacks.

Contrary to widespread expectations, the use of cyberweaponry in the Russian war with Ukraine has so far been limited. To date, the only significant, sophisticated operations with suspected Russian involvement are the attacks on communications giant Viasat’s satellite networks, attempts to install data-wiping malware on Ukrainian government systems, and attacks against two major Ukrainian telecommunications firms. 

There are several reasons that can plausibly explain why cyber operations have remained marginal in the conflict. First, the Ukrainians have done a good job at bolstering their digital defenses, helped in part by their American allies. There are also the inherent limitations of cyberattacks: in an all-out kinetic war, missiles offer a faster and more effective means of achieving strategic objectives than lines of code.  

Last, but certainly not least, it is worth remembering that we are in the early stages of a war that will drag on, potentially for months, leaving plenty of time for new Russian cyber operations. Apparent reluctance to use cyber capabilities beyond limited operational-level hits or disinformation campaigns may well abate as fears of spillover or retaliatory Western cyber responses diminish. The European Union (EU) must act now, while the intensity of cyber conflict outside Ukraine is still relatively low, to bolster its defenses and prepare for the specter of wide-ranging, damaging cyber operations later in the conflict. 

Cyber and Information Warfare: The Cornerstone of Russia’s Next Move?
Even if the Russians agree to a truce, cyber and disinformation efforts would be one of the few avenues available to them to inflict damage on Ukraine in the gray zone below the threshold of direct confrontation. As the Russian military shifts its objectives, resources and bandwidth will be freed up to fight from the rear. A cornered Moscow–with few other options left on the table–is likely to resort to the cyber domain, as other pariah states have done, as the ideal vector to circumvent isolation, spy on and disrupt Western defense plans, steal technology and intellectual property it will be cut off from, and heighten its global nuisance with disinformation operations. Recent attacks on a major Ukrainian telecommunications firm, Ukrtelecom, have heightened fears that Russia’s stalling military campaign could cause it to turn to cyber operations as another means of achieving its aims.