US Conducts Offensive Cyber Operations To Support Ukraine

American General confirms US military hackers have conducted ‘a series of operations’ in support of Ukraine, as it battles Russia’s invasion

Ukraine continues to receive the full support from many nations including the United States and the United Kingdom, as it battles against Russia’s illegal invasion of its country.

Just days after the US confirmed it will provide a new longer range missile system to Ukraine, a senior US General has confirmed that it has carried out offensive cyber operations to support Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered worldwide condemnation, as well as punishing and wide ranging sanctions that will impact the Russian economy for years to come.

Ukraine - Shutterstock - © Mykhaylo Palinchak

US confirmation

Prior to its invasion, Russia engaged in its usual practice of hybrid or asymmetric warfare, and was accused of launching an assortment of cyberattacks to destabilise communications and spread confusion whilst its troops invaded the region.

But such was the global outrage at Russia’s aggression, hacking groups such as Anonymous have been fighting back and conducting numerous cyberattacks against Russian targets, including Russian state TV channels.

But now the United States have confirmed that it is now involved in cyber operations.

Speaking to Sky News, the head of US Cyber Command, General Paul Nakasone, said that US military hackers have conducted offensive operations in support of Ukraine.

Speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, the general, who is also director of the National Security Agency (NSA), told Sky News that separate “hunt forward” operations were allowing the United States to search out foreign hackers and identify their tools before they were used against America.

The four star General said he is concerned “every single day” about the risk of a Russian cyber attack targeting the US, and said that the hunt forward activities were an effective way of protecting both America as well as allies.

Offensive operations

Then he confirmed US offensive cyber operations have been carried out.

“We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations,” General Nakasone told Sky News.

General Paul Nakasone

The General did not detail exactly what activities had taken place, but he explained how they were lawful, conducted with complete civilian oversight of the military and through policy decided at the Department of Defence.

“My job is to provide a series of options to the secretary of defence and the president, and so that’s what I do,” he reportedly said.

The General declined to describe those options.

The issue of lawful cyberattacks is one that has been in the news headlines recently.

Last month the UK’s Attorney General confirmed the UK could legally launch cyberattacks against hostile nations.

General Nakasone noted that unlike Russia, which conducts information operations by beginning with a lie, the US aims to strategically tell the truth.

Russian attacks

And General Nakasone confirmed Microsoft’s conclusion in April this year, that Russia’s cyberattacks against Ukraine have been much greater than first thought.

General Nakasone disagreed with some commentators who suggested Russian cyber operations against Ukraine had been overblown, and he praised the Kyiv government and defenders for their resilience.

“If you asked the Ukrainians, they wouldn’t say it’s been overblown,” he reportedly said. “If you take a look at the destructive attacks and disruptive attacks that they’ve encountered – you wrote about it in terms of the attack on [satellite company] Viasat – this is something that has been ongoing,” he added.

Last month US and UK intelligence officials confirmed that Russia was responsible for the cyberattack on the US-based Viasat communication systems, which began an hour before Russia illegally invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

“And we’ve seen this with regards to the attack on their satellite systems, wiper attacks that have been ongoing, disruptive attacks against their government processes,” said General Nakasone.

“This is kind of the piece that I think sometimes is missed by the public. It isn’t like they haven’t been very busy, they have been incredibly busy. And I think, you know, their resilience is perhaps the story that is most intriguing to all of us,” said General Nakasone.

US position

After Russia-linked hackers conducted a number of high profile cyberattacks against US targets, President Joe Biden raised the cyberattack issue with Vladimir Putin in June 2021, and warned him that certain critical US infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyberattacks.

Indeed, President Biden warned Putin of ‘retaliation’ and an ‘aggressive response’ if Russia attacks a list of 16 ‘critical’ industries in America.

Then in July 2021 President Biden underscored how serious the US is taking cyberattacks, when he admitted they could cause a ‘real shooting war’ with a ‘major power’.

Ever since 2011 the United States said it reserved the right to retaliate with military force against a cyberattack from a hostile state.

Meanwhile White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, commenting General Paul Nakasone comments, reportedly said that any offensive cyber activity against Russia would not be a violation of US policy of avoiding direct military conflict with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.