Is Russia exploring cyberattacks against the US in response to hacktivists?


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President Joe Biden today warned that a wave of new Russian cyberattacks on US targets could be near. But almost a month after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the question arises: why now?

And are such attacks possibly coming in response to sanctions against Russia over Ukraine – or something more?

Cybersecurity industry veteran Mike Hamilton believes it’s likely to be the latter. And that “something more,” he says, could be the hacking efforts of volunteers like the Anonymous Hacktivist Group.

“Part of that could be due to the subterfuge provided by an army of volunteers,” said Hamilton, founder and CISO of security firm Critical Insight and former vice chair of the DHS State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Government Coordinating Council.

“Having traced Pipelines, the Russian Space Agency, electric vehicle charging stations, television stations and unsecured printers, it is credible to claim that this is aggressive action by the United States and retaliation could be considered,” Hamilton said in comments per E- Mail.

Today, Biden released a statement saying his government was in possession of “developing information that the Russian government is evaluating options for potential cyberattacks.”

This has prompted Biden to reiterate previous warnings that “Russia may engage in malicious cyber activities against the United States, also in response to the unprecedented economic costs we, along with our allies and partners, have imposed on Russia.”

“It’s part of Russia’s playbook,” Biden said in the statement.

The US federal government has been warning for weeks that Russia may retaliate against the US for supporting the country in Ukraine, and that it is taking steps to impose financial costs on Russia for its unprovoked attack on its neighbor.

Blame the US

However, cyber experts have also been warning for weeks that there is a risk that Russia will misattribute or otherwise blame the US for the cyberattacks that H activists and other hackers supporting Ukraine have carried out against Russia.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to quickly determine where an attack came from or who was behind the attack,” John Dickson, vice president at Coalfire, told VentureBeat in a previous email. “Things can get chaotic quickly. And the risk of Russian ‘hackback’ cyberattacks targeting the US and the West is becoming more likely.”

With Biden’s testimony today, that likelihood now seems higher.

“The language in the White House announcement is beginning to focus on ‘specific and credible’ threats,” Hamilton said — although he said it was noteworthy that the statement cited “evolving intelligence agencies.”

“My government will continue to use all means to deter, disrupt and, if necessary, respond to cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. But the federal government cannot address this threat alone,” Biden said in the statement. “Most of America’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and critical infrastructure owners and operators must accelerate their efforts to lock their digital doors.”

For more than a month, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been urging companies and government agencies to deploy “shields” across the US. Today, CISA Director Jen Easterly said that Biden’s statement “reaffirms the urgent need for all companies, large and small, to act now to protect themselves from malicious cyber activity.”

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