Reviews | US-Russian conflict escalates — in cyberspace

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As the war in Ukraine rages on, a long-running battle between Russia and the United States over cyberspace is also heating up, with a senior Russian diplomat warning of “catastrophic” consequences if the United States or its allies “cause Russia with a cyberattack. .

The “information space,” as the Kremlin likes to call it, has been a growing area of ​​US-Russian conflict, not just in the Ukraine war, but in Russia’s hacking attacks on the countryside. presidential elections in 2016 and 2020 as well as congressional elections in 2018. The two countries briefly appeared to work together for common rules for cyberspace last year, but that cooperation has now exploded.

Andrei Krutskikh, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s top cyber expert, accused in an interview with Russian newspaper Kommersant on Monday that the United States had “unleashed cyber aggression against Russia and its allies.” He claimed that Washington was using Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and “the cyber army created by him to carry out cyber attacks against our country as a battering ram.”

Krutskikh continued ominously: “We do not recommend that the United States provoke Russia into retaliatory measures. A rebuff will certainly follow. It will be firm and resolute. However, the result of this “mess” could be catastrophic, as there will be no winners in a direct state-to-state cyber clash.

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To support Krutskikh’s claim that the US attacked Russian cyber targets, Kommersant cited a June 1 comment from Army General Paul Nakasone, head of US Cyber ​​Command. Speaking about Ukraine during a visit to Estonia, Nakasone told Sky News: “We conducted a series of operations across the spectrum: offensive, defensive, [and] information operations.

A Cyber ​​Command spokesperson had no comment. A senior State Department official said Krutskikh’s allegations were “nothing new” and a “response” to past statements.

The Biden administration, for its part, accused Russia last month of carrying out “malicious cyberactivity” against Ukraine, including an attack on a commercial satellite communications network that damaged systems in other countries. Europeans. The State Department condemned Russia’s cyber interference, but the senior official said the United States had not seen the “huge attacks” some had expected, possibly because the Russians ” don’t want a war on two fronts”.

Krutskikh claimed that a “freeze” by the Biden administration in developing a common approach to cybersecurity had reversed progress made last year at the United Nations. US and Russian officials had approved a joint United Nations resolution in October outlining a framework for discussing cybersecurity issues. Krutskikh called it a “historic moment”. But at that time the Russians were already planning their invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24. Still, contacts between the two countries on cyber issues have continued, with two meetings since December and another scheduled for July, the senior official said. said.

The Kremlin cyber chief said on Monday that Russia is always ready to negotiate “appropriate legal agreements with all states that soberly assess the threat of cyber warfare.” But on the same day, Russia included Michele Markoff, the State Department’s cybersecurity coordinator and main contact channel for Krutskikh, on a new sanctions list permanently banning travel to Russia.

Russia’s view of the internet is fundamentally different from that of the United States, the senior State Department official said in an interview on Tuesday. While the United States wants an open, free and interoperable system, Russia wants “an Internet with sovereign borders”, where it can suppress speech it does not like.

Russia’s obsession with cyberspace partly reflects Moscow’s view that the United States controls the internet and its governance. A favorite Russian target is a group of experts known as ICANN, which oversees the Internet’s domain name system. ICANN previously operated under a Commerce Department contract, but has been fully independent since 2016. On Monday, the group released a compendium of Russia’s attempts to rewrite internet rules, through United Nations or other international regulatory bodies it seeks to control. Since President Vladimir Putin, Russians quoted in ICANN report resent US digital dominance.

The US-Russian competition over cyberspace will come down to the September election of the new secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency that could, in theory, take over internet governance . Two of the main candidates are Doreen Bogdan-Martin, an American who currently heads one of ITU’s offices, and Rashid Ismailov, a Russian who has worked in his country’s communications ministry and for Huawei, Nokia and others. companies. Watch this space, friends.

The Internet confrontation is a microcosm of Russia’s larger confrontation with the West. Russia aspires to be recognized as a great power and a global normalizer. But as the war in Ukraine continues, Putin has grown increasingly thorny, isolated and angry with his enemies. It severs Russia’s ties to the world, even as it seeks to dominate cyberspace. His computer crashes and he doesn’t seem to know how to restart.

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