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What is Cyberwarfare?


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The term cyberwarfare applies to one of a series of cyber attacks launched against an enemy state. These attacks can cause significant harm and disrupt vital computer systems, which might be civilian, government-owned, or military systems. The outcomes of cyberwarfare can include espionage, manipulation, economic warfare, or propaganda.

Many countries engage in cyberwarfare and maintain active defensive and offensive capabilities. For example, the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), Israel, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran have cyberwarfare capabilities.

Is cyberwarefare real?

There is an ongoing debate among experts regarding this definition of cyberwarfare. Some even question whether cyberwarfare exists. One perspective claims this term is a misnomer because, to date, there has not been a cyber attack that can be described as a war.

The opposing view claims cyberwarfare is a suitable label for any cyber attack that causes physical damage to objects and people in the real world. However, while cyberwarfare operations can result in physical confrontation and violence, these operations are unlikely to meet the scale and protracted nature of war. This might change in the future as society becomes increasingly dependent on digital technology.

This is part of our series of articles about network attacks.

What Are the Types of Cyberwarfare?

Destabilization

In recent years, cybercriminals have attacked nation states by targeting critical infrastructure such as transportation systems, banking systems, electrical networks, water services, dams and hospitals. The adoption of IoT is making the manufacturing industry increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats.

From a national security standpoint, destabilizing critical infrastructure could compromise public services and economic processes. For example, an attack on the energy grid could have significant impacts on the industrial, commercial, and private sectors.

Sabotage

Some cyberattacks are aimed directly at causing harm to government digital systems. These attacks can block official government communications, compromise government systems, and steal sensitive information from government agencies. For example, a state-sponsored cyber attack might aim to disrupt communication channels used by law enforcement, in support of a terrorist attack.

Denial-of-service Attack

Denial of service attacks (DoS attacks) are an attempt to make a computing system or network unavailable to its users, by flooding it with irrelevant traffic. DoS attackers often target large organizations with a key role in the economy, such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and root name servers.

Modern DoS attacks are distributed across millions of Internet-connected devices, and are thus known as distributed denial of service (DDoS). A DDoS attack can disrupt and seriously damage critical information systems as part of cyberwarfare against a nation state.

Surprise Attacks

A surprise cyberattack is the execution of a large-scale, unexpected attack against a nation state. Often, the goal of a surprise attack will be to weaken a country’s defenses in preparation for a physical attack—this is known as hybrid warfare.

Propaganda

Online propaganda is an effort to manage and manipulate information with the goal of influencing public opinion. It is a psychological form of warfare that leverages social media, fake news sites and other digital channels.

Propaganda can be used to expose truths, or spread lies, that can cause people to lose trust in their country or to gain sympathy for their enemies.

Related content: Read our guide to advanced persistent threats.

Cyberwarfare Attack Examples

The Stuxnet Worm

The Stuxnet worm attacked Iran’s nuclear program. It is considered one of the most sophisticated cyber attacks in history. This malware spread from infected USB devices, targeting supervisory control and data acquisition systems. Most reports claim that the attack inflicted critical damage on Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.

Fancy Bear

Fancy Bear is a Russian-organized cybercrime group. According to CrowdStrike, this group targeted Ukrainian rocket forces and artillery between 2014-2016. The attack infected an Android application with X-Agent spyware, a form of malware that covertly collects information. The D-30 Howitzer artillery unit used the attacked Android application to manage targeting data. This attack destroyed more than 80% of Ukraine’s D-30 Howitzers.

Ukraine-Russia Cyberwarfare

Before the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, several cyberattacks were recorded against both Ukraine and Russia.

The first cyberattack against Ukraine occurred on January 14, 2022, taking down over 12 of Ukraine’s government websites. Ukrainian officials reported that approximately 70 government websites were attacked, including the Cabinet of Ministers, the Security and Defense Council, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most sites were restored within hours of this attack.

On February 15, a cyberattack took down several of Ukraine’s government and bank services, and on February 24, Russia began invading Ukraine. Many Western intelligence officials believed the invasion would be accompanied by a cyberattack targeting Ukraine’s infrastructure, but this threat did not occur. Insofar cyberattacks on Ukraine have encountered limited success.

In retaliation for the invasion, independent hacker groups, like Anonymous, have launched cyberattacks on Russia.

Cyberattacks on Romania

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Florin Cîțu (the former President of the Senate of Romania) declared that Romania would provide military aid to Ukraine. However, Russia publicly spoke against Western military support for Ukraine, warning they would retaliate.

In response to Florin Cîțu’s declaration, Killnet, a pro-Kremlin hacking group, launched an attack on Romania. From April 29, 04:05 EEST and until May 1, 2022, the group launched a series of DDoS attacks against Romanian websites, including military, government, mass media, and bank sites.

Cyberwarfare Protection

Cyber warfare uses similar attack patterns and techniques as traditional cyber attacks, but the resources available to nation-states allow them to conduct more sophisticated and sustained attacks. Here are a few key ways to protect organizations and countries against cyberwarfare attacks:

  • DDoS Prevention—DDoS protection solutions can detect and block attack traffic and prevent downtime for critical services like military, government offices and agencies, and civilian organizations critical to the economy.
  • Access control—implementing zero trust security for internal and remote employees through solutions like zero trust network access (ZTNA) can prevent attacks like account takeover, lateral movement, and privilege escalation.
  • Endpoint protection—advanced endpoint security solutions provide multiple layers of protection, detecting and eradicating malware before it does harm to an organization. This is a highly effective way of preventing ransomware, rootkits, and other malware that might be deployed by attackers against critical assets.
  • Anti-phishing—anti-phishing defenses and email security systems can identify and block malicious emails before they reach the inbox. This can prevent many types of social engineering, which are a common attack vector for cyberwarfare attacks.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP)—many cyberwarfare threat actors conduct cyber espionage, and aim to collect sensitive data from both government and private organizations. DLP solutions can detect and block attempted data breaches, by identifying suspicious data movements into and out of the organization.

Defending Organizations Against Cyberwarfare with Cynet

Cynet 360 AutoXDR is a holistic security platform that can provide multi-faceted protection against Advanced Persistent Threats, including cyberwarfare threats. Cynet correlates data from endpoints, network detection rules and user behavioral rules to present findings with near-zero false positives.

Block exploit-like behavior

Cynet monitors endpoints’ memory to identify behavioral patterns that are readily exploited, such as unusual process handle request. These behavioral patterns lead to the vast majority of exploits, whether new or known. Cynet is able to provide effective protection against Advanced Persistent Threats and more by identifying such patterns.

Block exploit-derived malware

Cynet employs multi-layered malware protection, including sandboxing, process behavior monitoring, and ML-based static analysis. Cynet also offers fuzzy hashing and threat intelligence. This makes sure that even if an Advanced Persistent Threat establishes a connection with the attacker, and downloads additional malware, Cynet will stop this malware from running, thus preventing any harm from occurring.

User Behavior Rules

Cynet continuously monitors user behavior, generates a real-time behavioral baseline, and provides alerts when behavior deviation is identified. This deviation in behavior may indicate a compromised user account. Additionally, Cynet provides the ability to define user activity policies, triggering an alert in case of violation.

Deception

Cynet supports the use of decoy tokens – data files, passwords, network shares, RDP and others – planted on assets within the protected environment. APT actors are highly skilled and therefore might evade detection. Cynet’s decoys lure such attackers, prompting them to reach out and reveal their presence.

Uncover hidden threats

Cynet uses an adversary-centric methodology to pinpoint threats throughout the attack chain. Cynet thinks like an adversary, identifying indicators and behaviors across endpoints, users, files, and networks. They supply a holistic account of the attack process, regardless of where the attack may try to penetrate.

Accurate and precise

Cynet utilizes a powerful correlation engine and provides its attack findings free from excessive noise and with near-zero false positives. This makes the response for security teams easier so they can attend to pressing incidents.

Choose from manual or automatic remediation. This way, your security teams can have a highly effective yet straight-forward way to disrupt, detect, and respond to advanced threats before they have the chance to do damage.

Learn more about the Cynet 360 AutoXDR security platform.

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