Cyberwar hype between Russia and Ukraine is just that, says Swiss researcher

In the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and after, many people in the computer security industry predicted that there would be a massive outbreak of what they termed cyber -conflict between these two countries. But little or nothing came of it.

A man who stood out from what turned out to be mere sensationalism is Doctor Lennart Maschmeyersenior researcher at the Cybersecurity Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich, a public research university in Switzerland.

He holds a PhD from the University of Toronto and co-chairs the FIRST Threat Intel Coalition as well as the European Cybersecurity Seminar.

“The fear of cyber attacks has persisted for years, even decades, and there has been a lot of hype around what is theoretically possible in cyber operations,” Dr. Maschmeyer said. iTWire in response to questions.

“The problem is that in the excitement and fear, few have paused to reflect and consider the evidence of what is achievable in practice. Therefore, most threat scenarios are based on imagination and possibility. rather than evidence and evaluation.

“In theory, anyone can become a billionaire. In practice, it’s extremely difficult – very, very few succeed. The same goes for cyber operations that produce strategically relevant and useful effects, as my research.

Dr. Maschmeyer’s presentation on public perceptions of cyber threats begins at 5:36:00.

“The bigger problem is that many commentators and analysts continue to portray cyberconflict in the language of warfare, when in practice it has much more in common with intelligence operations – and in particular subversion.”

Dr. Maschmeyer said the perception of the threat from Russia as a whole was based, at least, as much on myth as on reality.

“Media reports, in particular, continued to portray Russia as a hidden threat, led by the ‘master strategist’ [Vladimir] Putin who has perfected the art of ‘hybrid warfare’, capable of undermining the Western alliance with powerful cyberattacks and disinformation,” he added.

When asked how Ukrainian technology would compare to Russia’s, Dr Maschmeyer said he was unable to comment on it as it was not an area in which he had expertise. . However, what was known was that much Ukrainian infrastructure dated back to Soviet times. The Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

He was told that launching an online attack on another country would take years of work and collaboration between at least two nations, both of which had very well-trained hackers – something like Stuxnet, which was a joint US- Israel against Iran. .

When asked why this view had not been widely publicized, Dr. Maschmeyer said that warning of future cyber threats and imagining doomsday scenarios was more exciting and grabbed more attention, compared to an analysis. detail and thoroughness of the complexity of cyber operations and their disappointing trail. disk.

“To be fair, cyber ops are capable of causing significant disruption to the lives of individuals, for businesses suffering from ransomware, etc.”, he added. “However, few of these activities reach the level of strategic importance.”

Asked about the media’s role in inflating the false predictions of infosec professionals, without even asking about the source of the information, Dr. Maschmeyer said he was currently working on a research project with his colleague. , Max Smeets, on this same topic.

“…we are examining precisely how media reporting picks up on and further exacerbates the threat inflation and distortion of activity that permeates the reporting of cybersecurity vendors,” he explained.

“We’ll have more to say about this soon. In general, I would say that most public perceptions of cyber threats come from a self-perpetuating cycle of hype and distortion between industry, media and politics. J recently gave a brief lecture on this subject in The Hague.”


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