Global Consequences of Escalating U.S.-Russia Cyber Conflict

Cyber conflicts involving state actors are quickly becoming a geopolitical reality. Perhaps the most cited example, the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, is a continued source of conflict in U.S.-Russia relations. The story took another turn last October when the U.S. Cyber Command conducted an offensive cyber operation against the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the “Russian troll factory” linked to using disinformation campaigns during the 2016 elections, and onwards. While the operation has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. government, media reports and U.S. officials’ commentary taken together suggest the event occurred. The U.S. action, which took place during the 2018 midterm elections, has been portrayed as a defensive warning against Russia and other U.S. adversaries online. But the result of the offensive operation may, however, in the end benefit Russia and possibly contribute to escalation in the cyber domain globally.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the operation was confirmed by the apparent target. In a public announcement, the Russian Federal News Agency (FNA), which is reportedly tied to the IRA, describes a cyberattack that supposedly caused storage system malfunction, specifically destructively targeting the RAID controller and causing hard drives being formatted. While FNA’s credibility is low, the report’s claim that the offensive cyber operation resulted in a significant disruption seems undeniable.

Supporters praise the operations as a long-overdue action against Russia that additionally demonstrates the operational capabilities of the U.S. Cyber Command to the public opinion. Some may claim that the attacks have a deterrence value. Others may question whether an operation conducted on the day of elections could reasonably degrade any disinformation operations. Whatever the strategic gains the consequences of the cyber operation will not be limited to the United States—their significance is global. This action marks an unprecedented milestone in the history of cyber conflict. For the first time two major cyber powers have engaged in aggressive reciprocal cyber activity in public. ..Read More..

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