Homeland Security warns that Russia could launch cyberattack against US

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — A new Department of Homeland Security bulletin warns that Russia could launch a cyberattack against U.S. targets on American soil if it believes Washington’s response to its potential invasion of Ukraine threatens its long-term national security.

DHS blasted out the memo Sunday to U.S. critical infrastructure operators and state and local governments around the country, warning that ” Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could employ against U.S. networks” that make everything from planes to hospitals to dams and bridges operate.

Separately, a well-respected private cybersecurity firm leader warns that while “cyber espionage is already a regular facet of global activity, as the situation deteriorates, we are likely to see more aggressive information operations and disruptive cyberattacks within and outside of Ukraine.”

“The crisis in Ukraine has already proven to be a catalyst for additional aggressive cyber activity that will likely increase as the situation deteriorates,” wrote John Hultquist, vice president of threat intelligence for Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm that provides services to private enterprises, governments and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

“At Mandiant, we have been anticipating this activity, and we are concerned that, unlike the recent defacements and destructive attacks, future activity will not be restricted to Ukrainian targets or the public sector,” Hultquist wrote in his Jan. 20 online report.

Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior Homeland Security official, said the DHS Intelligence and Analysis bulletin underscores how even U.S. efforts to help avert a potential military conflict thousands of miles away has the potential to cause real harm to Americans here at home.

“In a globally connected world, conflicts are no longer geographically isolated. As DHS is warning, Russia may respond to U.S. actions in support of Ukraine by using offensive cyber tools against U.S. networks,” Rosenzweig told USA TODAY. “We have seen how vulnerable American systems are — think of the criminals who disrupted gas pipelines and meat packing last year. Now imagine that an angry Russia decides to take it to the next level — wastewater treatment; agriculture; transportation are all potential targets.”

If Russia were to launch such a cyberattack against U.S. targets, Washington would likely retaliate with defense or even offensive cyberweapons of its own. And that could trigger a potentially dangerous escalation that could threaten to draw the United States directly into the conflict between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine.

“That’s why the Russian attack on Ukraine is so dangerous,” Rosenzweig said. “It seems quite possible that the conflict will spin out of control — both on the ground and in the cyber universe.”

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