DoD must ‘think very differently’ about armed conflict and cyber in light of war in Ukraine: official

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber ​​Policy Mieke Eoyang speaks during Cybercon, virtually, at the Pentagon, Washington, DC, Nov. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. ‘US Air Force Brittany A. Chase)

WASHINGTON — After seeing Ukraine take on Russia both in the real world and in cyberspace, a senior U.S. cyberspace official said the Department of Defense needs to “think very differently” about how it will fight in both areas in the future.

Mieke Eoyang, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, said today at the Cyber ​​Institute summit in Aspen that war “is a really important conflict” for the DoD to understand, and one of the things she sees “is the background of the dwarfs of armed conflict”. the cyber-impacts” of war.

“When you think about the physical destruction versus the cyber disruption of what’s going on here, the things that the Russians tried to disrupt via cyber…didn’t have the strategic impact they wanted. , and they sought to destroy these things physically,” she continued.

Still, Eoyang said the DoD is now considering cyber operations in the context of armed conflict in four ways:

  1. Ensure that government-to-government communications and networks are secure, as demonstrated by how DoD communications with Ukraine have helped enable its defense and intelligence sharing.
  2. The importance of secure communications within the military, such as how the Ukrainian military was able to share information with forward commanders.
  3. In the information space, thinking about what it means for Ukrainian citizens to be able to communicate with the world and tell their stories through social media platforms like TikTok, Twitter and Facebook, which “denied Russia the environment of information that they want to pursue this conflict.”
  4. The inherent value of providing “essential” government functions. “When you look at attempts to destroy the kind of essential data that makes a country a country…like passports, birth certificates, property records…What do governments need to be able to continue to perform their essential function? said Eoyang.

“As we think about it at the Ministry of Defense, those first two things are things that we have a lot of expertise in and that we can help countries manage,” she said. “Some of these other things are new to us and part of a whole-of-government effort. But I think we have to think very differently about how we think about armed conflict and cybercrime in light of that conflict.

Eoyang added that one of the things that makes the Ukrainian conflict “different” is “the enormous influence of non-state actors, both private sector aid to Ukraine, but also individuals who, not bearing the uniform of a particular country, come to the aid of one party or another.

One such effort includes the all-volunteer hacktivist group IT Army of Ukraine, established at the start of the war on February 16, which has amassed more than 200,000 subscribers. on Telegram (although it is unclear how many are actively engaged in cyber operations) for address attack that targeted Ukrainian government and bank websites.

In pre-recorded remarks played at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in September, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Federov said the IT army in the first three days of the war would have shut down a number of Russian propaganda websites and TV channels and on a weekly basis attacks a number of websites.

Prior to the invasion, Ukraine did not have an established cyber force like other countries, Georgii Dubsynskyi, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation, said during a panel at the summit. “Maybe it was our mistake, but we just decided to do it before the war,” he said.

Still, Russia has underperformed on the cyber front, Eoyang said.

“I think we expected much bigger impacts than what we saw,” she said. “And I think it’s safe to say that Russian cyber forces, along with their traditional military forces, have underperformed expectations.”