According to NBC News and a senior American intelligence official, US military hackers have penetrated Russia's electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin's command systems, to be ready to strike in case a cyber-attack is launched against the United States on the election day.
The US November 8 event could be used as a pretext to stage hostile actions towards Russia. The US government agencies are reported to take extraordinary measures, including the use of secret weapons, to prevent cyber-attacks.
Moscow wants an explanation. «If no official reaction from the American administration follows, it would mean state cyberterrorism exists in the US. If the threats of the attack, which were published by the US media, are carried out, Moscow would be justified in charging Washington», Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
Vice President Joe Biden openly threatened Russia with a cyber-attack in a televised interview on October 16. Before the vice president’s statement, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-CO., said that he plans to introduce a bill that would impose sanctions on Russia.
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, put into question the conclusions that Russia was involved in the hacking activities.
Meanwhile, US media come up with one story after another dedicated to «cyber wars» with one country suspected of conducting subversive cyber activities against another in preparation for an all-out war in the domain where wars have never occurred.
So far, the only country with a record of conducting cyber-attacks on other nations is the United States itself. US military penetrated Iraqi networks during the 2003 invasion and cooperated with Israel to plant Stuxnet to subvert the operations of Iranian nuclear centrifuges in 2009-2010.
The United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), a sub-unified command subordinate to Strategic Command, was created in 2009 at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade to centralize command of cyberspace operations.
It’s not attacks and malware only; the cyber domain can be used as for the purposes of information wars, including fake documents releases or bogus social media accounts created to spread misinformation.
The Obama administration has done its best to sell the public an unconfirmed story that hackers backed by the Russian government have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee Party and computers used by Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. As the concocted narrative goes, the hackers gave the stolen messages to WikiLeaks to impact the US presidential race.
Russia has denied any relation to the hacks. Moreover, recent media reports say the private server Clinton used for business communications had been penetrated by at least five foreign intelligence services.
According to Fox News, Hillary Clinton is likely to be indicted soon by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The fact that the US blames Russia for everything going wrong without producing any evidence is nothing new. Donald Trump has said about it many times. But the need to regulate cyber activities internationally is an acute security issue.
Digital interconnectedness has become an inalienable feature of modern life. Information technology is ubiquitous. Cyberspace has become an operational domain for military operations. Experts have warned that 2016 could be a year of critical attack against the infrastructure of one or several countries.
No international law to regulate cyber activities exists. In 2013, Russia and the US agreed on a package of measures to boost information security, including information exchange between the computer emergency response teams (CERTs), the use of the existing nuclear hotline to communicate directly in a cyber crisis and the creation of a working group on emerging threats. The process did not lead to concrete results. It never got off the ground as the relationship deteriorated over Ukraine and other international security issues.
Russia and China set a good example. In 2009 Russia and China signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of international information security in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In 2015, the countries signed a bilateral agreement on cooperation in the field of international information security. In 2011 both countries submitted a proposal for an international code of conduct for information security to the United Nations. Those days the draft document failed to gather sufficient support in the relevant Committee of the General Assembly. The US led the opposition. An updated version of the code of conduct is currently circulating in the UN. Unlike Russia and China, the United States has never come up with any international initiative on cyber security of its own.
With all the ballyhoo raised by US media, nothing has been produced as evidence to support the accusations against Russia. Unleashing US cyber weapons is fraught with dangerous implications. The hostilities could spiral out of control and spill over to other domains.
Instead, Russia and the US could cooperate. Cyber domain could be a battle field or an area of bilateral cooperation. The revival of the 2013 package could be the first step. An operational
hotline and meetings of experts would come in handy.
Russia and the United States face the same threats from hacking, so they should work together to counter it. Both countries could start talks on an international cyber security agreement as a joint initiative to be submitted to the United Nations. Cybersecurity is a global issue which requires governments to work together, regardless of political tensions.
Perhaps, progress on the issue will be possible after a new US president takes office. Meanwhile, the Internet is increasingly seen as a platform for warfare to reflect the current geopolitical standoff with no broadly recognized international legislative framework in place. And the United States seems to be on the verge of launching the first attack.