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U.S. struggling for answers on lack of major Russian cyberattack in Ukraine invasion, Warner says

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The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman said Monday the U.S. government cannot fully explain why Russia has not launched a catastrophic cyberattack accompanying its invasion of Ukraine.

Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, said he questioned intelligence community officials in public and in private and has come away without a reason for the Russians’ inaction.

“The fact that they’ve not launched a NotPetya type attack with a software that includes worms that go from [one] network to another, we don’t have an answer,” Mr. Warner said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The conventional wisdom is maybe at first we thought that the Russians assumed they would win so quickly or, second, they didn’t want to use the really malicious malware because if it really destroyed some of the Ukrainian infrastructure, it would take much longer, it would be much more costly to re-stand up.”

NotPetya was a 2017 cyberattack by Russia against Ukraine that leveraged accounting software to infect computers and ultimately spread elsewhere to cause damage estimated at $10 billion globally, according to the Brookings Institution.

A NotPetya-style attack has not ensued in the current war, and the federal government is urging people to remain vigilant. The Biden administration warned critical infrastructure operators last month to prepare their cyber defenses in case attacks spilled over from Russia’s advance on Ukraine.

Some cyber professionals think such attacks may still come as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Retired Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who formerly led the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, said earlier this month he expects cyber attacks will spread in the weeks and months ahead, particularly against economic targets.

Mr. Warner is not ruling out the possibility of major Russian cyberattacks on the horizon. He told CSIS that Russia’s cyber capabilities are first-rate, and it has surprised him that a dramatic cyberattack has not accompanied the invasion.

“I still am relatively amazed that they have not really launched the level of maliciousness that their cyber arsenal includes,” Mr. Warner said. “Now, will we see that in the coming days? I think that remains a possibility. Are they holding that for potential use against the West and/or America? Again, we’ll see.”


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