On 24 February 2022, Russia launched a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine. This attack was strongly condemned by the European Union, the United States, and NATO.
Options for massive cyberattacks are reportedly in the hands of U.S. President Joe Biden. Four unnamed sources (including two U.S. intelligence officials and one Western intelligence official) told NBC News that the U.S. military and intelligence community had provided Joe Biden with options for cyberattacks that could hamper Russian military operations in Ukraine.
These options include disrupting Internet connectivity in Russia, making targeted power cuts, or manipulating railway switches. Since most of these cyberattacks would not be aimed at destruction, they would not constitute acts of war. However, if any of the options were used, the U.S. would not publicly acknowledge it.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. government has not confirmed this information. Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council, even said that the NBC article was “wildly off base and does not reflect what is actually being discussed in any shape or form.”
According to NBC, there is a split within the U.S. government between a camp advocating a strong cyber response and another fearing an escalation. Indeed, as one of the sources reminds us, “anything we can do to them, they can do to us.”
Some experts say the risk of escalation is high: “The last thing we want to see is a cyber tit for tat between the U.S. and Russia to see who can destroy one another’s critical infrastructure. I think it is horribly escalatory, can have devastating impacts to our security, and could drag us into a war,” warns Dmitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert at the Silverado Policy Accelerator.