The Cyber Defense Command closely followed the battle in cyberspace and the information field between Russia and Ukraine. The army finds that the hackers in Moscow have so far failed to destabilize a solid Ukrainian computer system.
“The Russian approach is a steamroller. It wants to sow doubt among the populations by constantly watering them with information,” says General Aymeric Bonnemaison, commander of cyber defense – abbreviated to Comcyber – at a press conference on January 12, 2023. 11 months after the start of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the French cyber defense services are learning lessons from cyberattack and disinformation campaigns. Why link the two? Because they are part of an operational unit led by the Kremlin.
The Comcyber distinguishes the first phase of cyber warfare. Since 2014, Kremlin hackers have been attacking Ukraine with joy: several collectives, members of Russian intelligence, have been harassing Ukrainians with as yet unpublished malware, depriving them one day of electricity, and another of drinking water. At the same time, the propaganda services launched influence campaigns to create discontent among the population. These attacks are only the consequence of a detachment of the country from Russia, which wants to believe in Moscow. This message is transmitted abundantly on social networks, even in text messages sent directly to the population.
The ComCyber has 3,400 French cybercombatants. // Source: Cyber Defense Command
The defense can take over the offense
Then comes the total invasion of the country, on February 24, 2022. “It is assumed that Vladimir Putin has concealed his intentions from many relatives. The lack of construction of the maneuver is partly responsible for the failures we are witnessing today,” analyzes General Bonnemaison. On the ground, as in cyberspace, the soldiers are not living up to the expectations of the Kremlin. A first wave is launched against the communication systems to isolate Ukraine, in particular through the attack on the KA-SAT satellite. But, very quickly, we see that operations in cyberspace do little damage.
Russian pirates attack, constantly, but do not hurt. Ukraine can boast of having built an exceptional cyber shield, reinforced by the American armed forces and tech giants like Microsoft. By dint of being attacked, the country has formed and learned to protect itself from the invading neighbor.
General Aymeric Bonnemaison, cyber defense commander, during the press conference on January 12.
“The defense can take over the offensive, that’s the scoop of this conflict,” says the head of the cyber command. However, the general wants to remain cautious: “The Russian hackers missed their attacks, but they should not be buried for all that. The cyber weapon is stealthy and discreet, it does not always make noise“.
Russia seeks to sow doubt
The Comcyber monitors the informational field equally. On its territory, Russia has embarked on a withdrawal into itself. The sovereign Russian Internet and the banning of many applications have allowed the regime to limit the entry of outside information to prevent the Russians from confronting reality. Internationally, Russia is deploying a discourse intended to manipulate information. Which, failing to persuade, sows confusion. A mass of false information will end up installing doubt in the population on many subjects.
The Russian Telegram channel named Cyber Front Z, calls to harass the account of Emmanuel Macron or Nancy Pelosi.
Ukraine was also surprised by its ability to relay messages. The Ukrainian president has adopted a strategy of openness, communicating massively to his population and especially to the West.
General Bonnemaison recalls that “electronic warfare is in full swing”. Starlink network kit jamming, deal attacks, and cyber espionage are everyday actions to pay attention to in order to understand the evolution of battles.