March 30, 2023

On the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine is commemorating horrific losses — and remarkable defiance.

The country’s fierce resistance on the battlefield has been echoed on the digital front — where Kyiv has unique experience. The conflict with Russia has become the world’s first full-scale cyberwar, but Ukraine was a test bed for digital weapons long before the invasion of 24 February, 2022. Since Putin’s troops began flooding across the border, the cyber tactics have shifted dramatically.

These developments have made Ukraine a bellwether for digital warfare. And to the surprise of analysts, cyber attacks have had a limited impact over the past year.

“We’re going to see cyber activity as a pre-emptive tactic to physical war.

In the lead-up to the invasion, cyber assaults were prominent. On 15 February, Russian hackers launched the most powerful DDoS attack in the history of Ukraine. A day before the full-scale invasion, several government and banking websites were struck once again.

Yet in the months that followed, reports of major cyberattacks declined. Zachary Warren, Chief Security Advisor EMEA at Tanium and a regular advisor to NATO, regards this as a portent for digital warfare.

“Moving forward, we’re going to see cyber activity as a pre-emptive tactic to physical war… it’s a tool to weaken a target before moving in,” he said.

Ukraine’s government, meanwhile, asserts that Russia’s targets have changed. In a January report, security officials said the cyberattacks initially centred on Ukraine’s communication department, which aimed to disrupt military and government operations. But after Russia’s first defeat at the front, the focus shifted to maximising damage to civilians.

Notably, the officials found that all the assaults had harnessed previously known techniques.

“The attacks used by Russia have long been categorised and have straightforward solutions for counteraction,” said the report’s authors.