Cyber Warfare – What Could Happen if Russia Attacked?

With a stark warning coming from the Biden Administration this week that Russia could be preparing to launch cyber-attacks and the Shields Up order by Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) the previous, many people are wondering, if Russia launched a cyber-attack against the US, what would that mean?

We already know a few of the potential impacts of what a Russian state-sponsored cyber-attack if we look back just 12 months to the Colonial Pipeline and the JBS ransomware attacks. Both had impacts on the daily lives of ordinary citizens, not just the organizations themselves. But there is likely one major difference between what happened at both Colonial and JBS and what could happen after the launch of a cyber-attack by Russia: both Colonial and JBS were able to pay ransomware demands to gain access back to their systems. With a state-sponsored cyber-attack, the computer systems could possibly be destroyed if a data wiping attack is launched or just remain inaccessible because there is no ransom demand.

It has been over four years since we saw the NotPetya data wiper attack spread across, can you believe it, Ukraine in 2017. And we’ve seen a resurgence of at least four new data wiper variants launched against the Ukraine during the Russian invasion. It is very likely that these types of attacks can be launched against US targets as well.

Another interesting item to note is that there was a coordinated attack against at least 21 natural gas suppliers in the US in the weeks before Russian invasion of Ukraine. The attackers were able to gain access to approximately 100 employee computers, ranging from technical support to gas line operators, two weeks before the invasion. While the attack has not been formally attributed to Russia, there is strong suspicion that the attack and timing was not a coincidence.

We can also take a look at the cyber-attacks in Europe over the past several weeks to see how Russian-sponsored attacks might play out in the US if successfully launched. Satellite internet provider Viasat was hit by an attack that took out the internet to more than just Ukraine but also large parts of Europe. Following this attack, the CISA issued a warning to satellite providers in the US to tell them to ensure that they strengthen their cybersecurity protections and be on guard.

With looking at all the possibilities of what might happen, I’m reminded of the the movie “Die Hard 4.0: Live Free or Die Hard” and the gang of nefarious hackers that decide to launch a cyber-attack against the US. If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a quick summary of the plot: Terrorists initiate a plot to bring down the U.S. in a cyber attack, taking out transportation, telecommunications, financial and power networks with systematic hacking. Luckily, New York cop John McClane (Willis) wanders into their orbit, an analogue hero for a digital dilemma.” Released in 2007, the fantastical Hollywood imagination of what would happen in a terrorist cyber-attack may not be too far off from the reality if widespread cyber-attacks are launched against the US.