Russian cyberattacks in NATO countries quadrupled last year compared to 2020 and more than tripled in Ukraine over the same period, Google said Thursday.
The spike in attacks — which coincided with Moscow’s invasion of pro-Western Ukraine on February 24, 2022 — was a sign of how cyber warfare would become increasingly prevalent in future conflicts, the US tech giant said in a new report.
“In 2022, Russia increased targeting of users in Ukraine by 250 percent compared to 2020,” it found.
“Targeting of users in NATO countries increased over 300 percent in the same period.”
The report said Russian government-backed attackers ramped up cyber operations beginning in 2021 during the run-up to the invasion.
Its authors spotted “more destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine during the first four months of 2022 than in the previous eight years, with attacks peaking around the start of the invasion”.
Actors sponsored by the Russian armed forces “have used destructive malware to disrupt and degrade Ukraine’s government and military capabilities,” the report said.
Their cyber offensive — including against users across NATO — ranged from hijacking websites to intelligence collection and information campaigns to sway public opinion, including in favour of Russian mercenary group Wagner.
“It is clear cyber will now play an integral role in future armed conflict, supplementing traditional forms of warfare,” Google said.
A host of new actors have been taking part in the cyberattacks.
“The war caused Chinese government-backed attackers to shift their focus towards Ukrainian and Western European targets to gather information on the conflict,” the report said.
War has also split the loyalties of financially motivated attackers.
“The cybercriminal ecosystem has been disrupted with some groups declaring political allegiances, others splitting on geopolitical lines, and prominent operators shutting down,” it said.