The Russia – Ukraine conflict has two separate fronts – the physical, and the digital one, and while the United States may not be involved on the physical side of things – they’re very much involved in the digital realm.
Speaking to Sky News in the Estonian capital Talinn, the head of US Cyber Command, also the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), General Paul Nakasone said the US has been conducting offensive operations in support of Ukraine, starting almost three months before the actual invasion. Such operations are in support of Ukraine, as its tactical ally against Russia, but that’s not the US’ primary target.
Defending US infrastructure
General Nakasone explained that the key task here is to protect US infrastructure, its institutions, and its citizens, by actively hunting for tools Russian cyberattackers might be using, not just against Ukraine, but against the States, as well.
“We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations,” he said.
He did not go into further details about this series of operations, but he did stress that they were completely lawful, under civilian oversight, and conducted through policy decided at the Department of Defence.
“My job is to provide a series of options to the secretary of defense and the president, and so that’s what I do,” he further explained.
The US government deployed Cyber Command specialists to 16 allied countries, to exchange intelligence from their networks and endpoints(opens in new tab). The specialists have been invited by the allies, and all of the work has been consensual, the general stressed.
He also explained what the allies were looking for (among other things):
“If you’re an adversary, and you’ve just spent a lot of money on a tool, and you’re hoping to utilize it readily in a number of different intrusions, suddenly it’s outed and it’s now been signatured across a broad range of networks, and suddenly you’ve lost your ability to do that,” he said.
In the hours before the invasion, Russian cyber-warriors assaulted the American communications company Viasat, leaving part of the Ukrainian military, as well as civilians, with limited or no connectivity.
How Russia will respond to General Nakasone’s statements, remains to be seen.