What’s the equivalent of a warning shot across the bows in cyber warfare? Whatever the word is, this is an example…:
[…] The U.S. intelligence community has consistently pointed to Russia as the primary source of election interference, and it was far better prepared to combat such interference in the 2018 midterm elections that it had been in the 2016 presidential election.
Specifically, Cybercom targeted the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a private “troll farm” funded largely by companies controlled by Russian oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. intelligence community has long identified the IRA as a central player in Russia’s attempt to influence U.S. elections by seeding the domestic conversation with disinformation and encouraging discord among the electorate.
A month before the 2018 election, Cybercom launched a strategy largely based on emails and text messages to surreptitiously obtain personal information from IRA employees. It them showed its hand, demonstrating that the employees’ identities and personal information were known and could be released publicly. When the interference did not stop, Cybercom took a far blunter approach, causing the IRA’s servers to crash on Election Day and leaving behind misleading information that caused widespread finger-pointing among IRA managers and employees.
Experts believe that 2018 suggests a roadmap for Cybercom’s information warfare strategy heading into the 2020 election. The documented history of recent Russian interference, however, along with significant changes in U.S. policy, could encourage Cybercom to employ far more pointed and aggressive tactics during the current election cycle.
Officials suggest that Cyber Command would target senior Russian officials and oligarchs like Prigozhin who are believed to support Russian information warfare efforts financially. Such efforts are likely at first to resemble those employed against the IRA: a series of warnings backed by a demonstration that the targets’ personal data has been obtained without their knowledge. While this strategy would shift Cybercom’s focus from troll farms and other operational targets to their sources of funding and governmental support, it is widely believed that no information warfare strategy currently in development includes Putin as a target. As its history shows, however, Cybercom is prepared to target Russian oligarchs directly, and important stores of data could be hit.