Pictures and videos emanating from Ukraine show the widespread destruction wrought by Russian troops during a year-long war that continuously generates news coverage. But there is another side to this conflict that is lesser known and harder to see.
A parallel war has been running alongside Russia’s conventional ground invasion, one that involves unrelenting cyber attacks across various segments of Ukrainian society, if with less success than many experts initially anticipated. Mixed results aside, this cyber warfare at times has been significant enough that lines are being blurred between where cyber attacks stop and conventional warfare begins.
Since the start of the invasion in late February 2022, Russian actors have attacked Ukraine with two primary goals: to damage critical infrastructure and to exfiltrate or destroy data. According to Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team, more than 2,000 cyber attacks plagued Ukraine in 2022 alone. Taking it a step further, at least eight different forms of malware have been used by Russian saboteurs in the past year, according to Microsoft, 40 percent of which were targeted at “critical infrastructure sectors.” Other targets included Ukrainian government websites, financial institutions, energy and communication service providers, and media outlets.
Russia’s intense use of cyber attacks in Ukraine predates its ground invasion by at least eight years. When Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, suspected Russian hackers knocked out power to 230,000 customers in western Ukraine. Two years later, suspected Russian hackers used malware to disrupt Ukrainian airports, railways and banks. One month before its ground invasion last February, Russia launched a massive cyber attack targeting government institutions in an attempt to weaken Ukraine’s position ahead of the impending military action.
These types of crimes aren’t unique to Ukraine and exist in the absence of active war. In 2007, hackers attacked Estonia in what is believed to be the first major cyberattack on an entire country, crippling banks, government websites and media companies. Closer to home, a ransomware attack in 2021 disabled the…