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Global Cybersecurity Ramifications from the War in Ukraine

What have we learned so far regarding cybersecurity from the Russia-Ukraine war and related cyber incidents around the world? Let’s explore.

binary code over a black and red map of the world
What are the most important trends in global cybersecurity? How are current events impacting the wider cyber conflicts and incidents that public- and private-sector organizations face every day? How will these events shape the world in the years ahead in cyberspace?

These questions are becoming more and more difficult to answer as new alliances are being formed as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Back when we started the year, the top cyber experts and companies made numerous predictions regarding cybersecurity in 2022, but no one predicted what is happening now.

The Washington Post column called “The Cybersecurity 202,” which analyzes world cyber events, offered this headline this past week: “Cyber conflict in Ukraine is growing more complex by the day.”

Here’s an excerpt: “An IT army of volunteers from inside and outside Ukraine has been targeting Russia with a mix of offensive hacks and information operations aimed at cracking through Russian censorship with news about the bloody conflict.

“A top Ukrainian cyber official, Victor Zhora, distanced the government from the group’s offensive hacks during a call with reporters — even as he praised much of its work.

“‘Volunteers continue their operations, and we believe that some of these operations can be offensive and directed to military infrastructures of Russia,’ he said. ‘But … it’s their own initiative, so this activity isn’t coordinated by the government, and we continue focusing on protecting of Ukrainian infrastructure.’”

The article goes on to describe how cyber officials from allied nations have also offered remote assistance to help protect Ukrainian digital assets and investigate the origin of some cyber attacks. Also, China may be in the hacking mix, as a Twitter handle known for exposing Chinese hacking operations said they were conducting operations in Ukraine — but stopped short of linking the Chinese government.
Going even further, a recent CNBC headline proclaimed “‘For the first time in history anyone can join a war’: Volunteers join Russia-Ukraine cyber fight.”

Here’s an excerpt:
  • “The number of cyber attacks being waged by — and on behalf of — Ukraine and Russia since the outbreak of the war is ‘staggering,’ according to research.
  • “Ukraine authorities estimate some 400,000 multinational hackers have volunteered to help counter Russia’s digital attacks, said Yuval Wollman, president of CyberProof.
  • “Russia is expected to retaliate against countries and companies that are siding with Ukraine, especially in light of its military difficulties, said Wollman.
“‘For the first time in history anyone can join a war,’ said Lotem Finkelstein, head of threat intelligence at Check Point Software. ‘We’re seeing the entire cyber community involved, where many groups and individuals have taken a side, either Russia or Ukraine.’

“‘It’s a lot of cyber chaos,’ he said.”

Additionally, offered this article: “Over 300,000 Hackers Join Ukraine’s Volunteer ‘IT Army’ Against Russia.”

Here’s an excerpt: “Most attacks on behalf of both Ukraine and Russia appear to employ two well-known methods. Firstly, hackers are attempting to access sensitive or private information with the aim of leaking the data to disrupt normal operations. Secondly, many are conducting DDoS attacks, involving overwhelming and disrupting a service or network by flooding it with traffic from multiple sources.

“There have been a number of highly publicized cyber attacks against Russia so far, although it’s difficult to know who’s behind the offensive and whether they are affiliated with this so-called ‘IT Army.’ One cyber attack, reportedly carried out by non-state-affiliated hacking collective Anonymous, involved broadcasting footage of the war on Russia’s state TV and the country’s equivalent of Netflix.

“The bombs and bullets remain as ugly as ever, but the prolific use of cyber attacks, cryptocurrency, social media, and disinformation campaigns means that this war is like few others seen before it. …”


There are other experts who are reporting that the role of hackers and cyber attacks in the Ukraine conflict is overblown, especially with respect to cyber attacks outside Ukraine and Russia.

One of those experts is Dr. Lennart Maschmeyer, a senior researcher at the Cybersecurity Centre for Security Studies run by ETH Zurich, a public research university in Switzerland.

In this article for IT Wire, Dr. Maschmeyer wrote:

“Fear of cyber attacks has persisted for years, if not decades now, and there has been a lot of hype around what is theoretically possible in cyber operations …

“The problem is that in the excitement, and fear, few have stopped to think and look at the evidence of what is feasible in practice. Consequently, most threat scenarios are based on imagination and possibilities rather than evidence and evaluation.

“In theory, everyone can become a billionaire. In practice, it is extremely difficult though - very, very few make it. The same is true for cyber operations to produce strategically relevant, and useful, effects as my research has shown. …

“To be fair, cyber operations are capable of causing significant disruptions to individual lives, for companies suffering from ransomware etc.,” he added. “However, little of this activity rises to the level of strategic significance.”


In conclusion, we don’t know yet how these conflicts will be resolved any more than we know how the Russian invasion of Ukraine will end.

But some experts see current developments as a glimpse into the future regarding conflicts around the world, even if the war in Ukraine is resolved soon and does not spread to other countries.

For example, the role of the hacktivist, which I wrote about more than six years ago here and here, has evolved substantially. Quartz reported that “Pro-Ukrainian hacktivists are taking down Russian websites.”

Additionally, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) just released this new guidance as part of a “Shields Up” Alert given the situation in Ukraine.

And many worry that once this global cyber army has been assembled, trained and made effective, they may be difficult to disband — or control.

Only time will tell.
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.