Russia ready to launch cyber attacks on the West in retaliation for economic sanctions

A cyber security expert has told GB News how Russia is ready to step up its campaign against the West

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Western governments and companies need to be on a “hightened state of preparedness” for the “high probability” of cyber attacks, as economic sanctions on Russia begin to bite, a senior cyber security expert has told GB News.

Russia has been accused of launching dirty tricks after Priti Patel and Ben Wallace were targeted with hoax phone calls.

And it is expected Russia will soon step up its campaign against the West with cyber attacks.

Critical national infrastructure and the banking sector could be the main targets of any attack ordered by Vladimir Putin, according to Richard Staynings, chief security strategist at cyber security firm, Cylera.

Cyber attacks are expected to be launched
Cyber attacks are expected to be launched

He said: “I would say there's a fairly high probability, based upon the types of hybrid warfare that Putin and the Kremlin have executed in the past, that cyber attacks will be launched this time round.

“In Chechnya in the 90s, Russia launched its cyber weapons against opposing forces. We've seen it in Georgia and South Ossetia. We've seen it in other parts of the World, where Russia has wanted to extend its influence and to coerce and to bully its neighbours or adversaries.

“I think it's a weapon that's being held in reserve right now, but we certainly need to be on a heightened level of preparedness.

“That means we need to make sure that systems are patched. We need to make sure that we've got adequate cyber defences in place to protect our businesses, our schools and universities, our hospitals our power and oil systems and other critical infrastructure across the country.”

Experts warn although the threat from cyber warfare can seem quite abstract, it has potential real world consequences.

Russia has been accused of launching dirty tricks after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was the victim of a hoax call
Russia has been accused of launching dirty tricks after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was the victim of a hoax call

Recent attacks on the health service caused signifcant disruption.

The multiple computerised systems within the West’s aviation sector are also vulnerable to attack.

Cyber security teams are already on high alert. Executives at some of the West’s leading banks and financial institutions have expressed their concern about the possibility of Russian attacks on the banking system in retaliation for being kicked out of the Swift international payments system.

Apart from an attack on some of Ukraine’s critical systems in the initial stages of the invasion, there has been no concerted effort by Russia to attack Western infrastructure in recent weeks, according to security sources.

The leadership in Moscow knows that any cyber attack on the West will be met with a significant response from Western Governments, whose offensive cyber capabilities have been significantly enhanced in recent years.

But if Vladimir Putin decides to give the go ahead for technological attacks, he can also utilise a network of organised criminal gangs to hep him out, according to Professor Ciaran Martin, from the University of Oxford.

Professor Martin, who is the former head of the the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, said that any Russian cyber attack would come on multiple fronts.

“As well as being one of the most formidable cyber powers in terms of government capabilities, Russia also has the largest concentration by far of serious organised cyber criminals on the planet.” He said.

“In 2021, we saw those criminals disrupt petrol supplies in America, healthcare in Ireland, schools in England, food retail in Sweden, the list goes on.

None of that individually is catastrophic. But if the Russian state were to unleash its ransomware capabilities, its cyber criminal capabilities, while not catastrophic, that could get pretty unpleasant.

Although the West’s computer systems are better protected these days, there are still inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilites that adversaries could seek to exploit, according to Richard Staynings.

“There are certainly still weaknesses in the system.” He said.

“Much has been done to shore up a lot of the critical infrastructure across the UK, particularly the NHS since the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017.

“A lot of older systems have been replaced and we have new regulations that are forcing NHS trusts and NHS digital to move forward in that space.

“The data security protection tool-kit for example is driving enhancements around IOT medical devices which are inherently vulnerable in our health system today and that is forcing health systems to improve their capabilities.

“But there are still gaps in the fabric, there are still chinks in the armour that we need to be aware exist and we need to take precautions in order to ensure that perpetrators can't get through that armour.”

For now, as Russia concentrates on conventional warfare, it is already fighting off multiple attacks from Western computer hackers, who have turned away from their traditional targets of big business and governments at home, focussing their disruptive talents on Moscow instead.