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Joe Cheravitch is a defense analyst with the Rand Corporation.
Cyber-confrontation between the U.S. and Russia is increasingly turning to critical civilian infrastructure, particularly power grids, judging from recent press reports. The typically furtive conflict went public last month, when The New York Times reported U.S. Cyber Command’s shift to a more offensive and aggressive approach in targeting Russia’s electric power grid.
Report - Skepticism - Experts - Denial - Administration
The report drew skepticism from some experts and a denial from the administration, but the revelation led Moscow to warn that such activity presented a “direct challenge” that demanded a response. WIRED magazine the same day published an article detailing growing cyber-reconnaissance on U.S. grids by sophisticated malware emanating from a Russian research institution, the same malware that abruptly halted operations at a Saudi Arabian oil refinery in 2017 during what WIRED called “one of the most reckless cyberattacks in history.”
Although both sides have been targeting each other’s infrastructure since at least 2012, according to the Times article, the aggression and scope of these operations now seems unprecedented.
Washington - Moscow - Share - Similarities - Cyber-deterrence
Washington and Moscow share several similarities related to cyber-deterrence. Both, for instance, view the other as a highly capable adversary. U.S. officials fret about Moscow’s ability to wield its authoritarian power to corral Russian academia, the private sector, and criminal networks to boost its cyber-capacity while insulating state-backed hackers from direct attribution.
Moscow sees an unwavering cyber-omnipotence in the U.S., capable of crafting uniquely sophisticated malware like the ‘Stuxnet’ virus, all while using digital operations to orchestrate regional upheaval, such as the Arab Spring in 2011. At least some officials on both sides, apparently, view civilian infrastructure as an appropriate and perhaps necessary lever to deter the other.
Similarities - Cyber-targeting - Moscow - Washington - Paths
Whatever their similarities in cyber-targeting, Moscow and Washington faced different paths in developing capabilities and policies for cyberwarfare, due in large part to the two sides’ vastly...
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