For a look at how cyber will play into armed conflict, look at the Dec. 23 attack on the Ukrainian energy sector. This was no simple hack involving celebrity emails or embarrassing personal information but a highly coordinated and complex cyber-physical assault that knocked out power to more than 225,000 people … in a war-torn country … in the dead of winter. On Thursday, the head of Southern Company, one of America’s larger regional electricity producers, said that the United States was well protected against a similar attack. But that doesn’t mean that a repeat, or a similar event, couldn’t trigger a larger conflict even if it doesn’t shut off the lights.
Who’s behind the attack and what does it mean for the future of war?
The Green Men of the Dark Web
Cyber security researchers have pointed the finger at pro-Russian hactivist groups. U.S.-based iSight Partners specifically accused the Moscow-based Sandworm. But a wide variety of pro-Russian groups are working against Ukraine and Western forces; one is Cyberberkut, which has taken credit for attacks on German media and NATO sites.
So how do these groups operate? History suggests: with stealth and subtlety. Remember 2014, when masked gunmen, not officially affiliated with any larger nation-state, began waging war in Eastern Ukraine? The so-called “green men” completed their invasion before anyone was able to figure out that they were, in fact, invading.
The specific culprit in the Ukraine blackout is almost less important than the broader trend: the rise of cyber militias that work on behalf of state interests but whose veneer of…