As of September 2018, the alleged Russian hacking attempts of various Western bodies have become one of the key narratives in the mainstream media. The ongoing media hysteria is being used by the US and allies to justify open preparations for the global cyber standoff.
Russia has been accused of cyber-attacks ever since 2016, in relation to alleged meddling in the US Presidential election. These accusations seemed to be in the background of other accusations, related to the war in Syria or the Skripal case.
On September 21st, the UK announced that it would £250m cyber-force unit to perform offensive, not simply defensive, cyber operations, targeting “the Russian threat and terrorist groups.” In March 2018 the possibility of the cyber troops was initially reported, and it was supposed to consist of 1,000 members. However, reports in September claimed that it would number 2,000 digital warriors, with experts recruited from the military, security services and industry. It will quadruple the number of personnel in offensive cyber-roles and marks a step change in the nation’s ability to disrupt and destroy computer networks and internet-connected devices.
The publicity “the Russian aggression” has been getting in British media would justify offensive actions taken by the new UK cyber troops. Despite there being any evidence of their claims, the cyber warriors may be used to suppress “Russian propaganda,” i.e. alternative media outlets.
More recently, on October 3rd, Katie Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, said the U.S. is committing to use offensive and defensive cyber operations for NATO allies, but America will maintain control over its own personnel and capabilities. The move was presented as showing US commitment to NATO, as well as to countering Russia “constantly pushing its cyber and information operations.”
On October 4th, the Netherlands accused Russia of planning to hack the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which had been probing the nerve agent attack on the Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Four Russians arrived in the Netherlands on April 10th and were caught three days later with spying equipment at a hotel near the OPCW HQ. Instead of being arrested, they were expelled back to Russia.
EU officials said in a statement Russia’s “aggressive act demonstrated contempt for the solemn purpose” of the OPCW. Australia, New Zealand and Canada were among other countries to issue strongly worded statements backing their allies’ findings.
On the same day, the UK also accused GRU agents of being behind four high-profile cyber-attacks, including firms in Russia and Ukraine; the US Democratic Party; and a small TV network in the UK. Britain has also said the GRU was associated with a host of hackers including APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, CyberCaliphate, Cyber Berkut and Voodoo Bear.
Canada also said “with high confidence” that breaches at its center for ethics in sports and at the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency were carried out by Russian intelligence
Also on October 4th, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that Russia must be held accountable for its attempts to hack the OPCW.
He also announced that the US is prepared to provide cyber support to its NATO allies. He also claimed that he had seen enough evidence that prove the accusations against Russia are absolutely true. None of this evidence has been presented.
The US also indicted seven alleged Russian agents on cyber-hacking charges linked to the leaking of Olympic athletes’ drug test data, in an alleged attempt to undermine efforts to tackle alleged Russian doping. The World Anti-Doping Agency recommended the reinstatement of the Russian anti-doping agency, despite accusations that it assisted Russian athletes in cheating. On September 20th, the WADA Executive Board officially reinstated the RUSADA, so the doping allegations were also not backed by facts.
Three of them were already indicted in the probe of the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections.
These, currently, hardly confirmed accusations may be used to present more sanctions on Russia and thus increase pressure on the country. They will also be used to justify the employment of cyber tools to counter “Russian Propaganda” in the US and the EU in the face of alternative media. Russia will respond by strengthening its cyber capabilities, which in turn would lead to more claims of “Russian aggression.”
This will most likely lead to a diplomatic and military tension between Europe and Russia. This is precisely what the US would like to happen. After all, since assuming office, Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from a nuclear agreement between six powers and Iran, pulled out of a global climate accord, left the UN cultural agency, the UN Human Rights Council and threatened NATO military allies that the United States would “go its own way” if members did not spend more on defense. This has, of course, alienated some of its NATO allies in the face of EU members, Turkey and Canada. Naturally, for ties to be made stronger there is a necessity of the existence or creation of a common enemy that would bring to a common end.