What the Russia-Ukraine War Means for the Future of Cyber Conflict?


What the Russia-Ukraine War Means for the Future of Cyber Conflict?


Time: 2022/9/13 02:00-04:00PM
Venue: IEAT International Conference Center Meeting 8F Room 2

Keynote Speaker:

14:05–14:45 Keynote #1. Internet Hacking Landscape in the Russia-Ukraine War by Representative from Microsoft

14:45–15:25 Keynote #2. The Weaponized Social Media in the Wartime

15:25–16:05 Keynote #3. The Future of the International Law after the Russia-Ukraine Cyber Conflict 


 Keynote #1. Internet Hacking Landscape in the Russia-Ukraine War by Ms. Chien-Min Yang from Microsoft CELA

Microsoft published an intelligence report, Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War, this June. The report represents research conducted by Microsoft’s threat intelligence and data science teams with the goal of sharpening our understanding of the threat landscape in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Yang invited Fanta Orr and Judy Ng, both senior analysts in Microsoft and the main contributors to the report, to share Microsoft’s observations and findings through pre-recorded videos.  

Microsoft observed that cyberattacks have emerged before the Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The physical invasion has also been accompanied by cyberattacks ever since the war started. Orr and Ng shared several insights, including: government institutions were the most common target during the war; Russian government entities responsible for cyberattacks, including GRU; targeted phishing as one of the tactics. Most cyberattacks observed during the war were common tactics, which makes contribution difficult. Orr and Ng emphasized the importance of cyber hygiene for cyber defense.

Yang pointed out that nowadays, war happens on multiple fronts and in various forms. The report suggested that the government should collaborate with the industry in cyber defense and share intelligence. Microsoft helped the Ukrainian government migrate more than one hundred systems to the cloud to maintain the integrity of its services and data during the war. In the end, Yang emphasized the importance of collaboration among global multistakeholders.

 Keynote #2. The Weaponized Social Media in the Wartime by Chihhao Yu, IORG Co-director. Software engineer, information designer.

Yu defined ‘weaponize’ as information manipulation. Information manipulation includes manipulation of source, where sources were omitted or forged; manipulation of content, a.k.a. fake news; conspiracy theories that provoke emotional reactions are examples of manipulation of speculation. Yu used real examples in the Russian invasion to explain each kind of information manipulation while referencing similar scenarios in Taiwan, making it easy for the audience to understand the context.

Several themes are often found in the content manipulation: whitewash the invader, people desire peace, there is no war, demoralization, justify the invasion, and sow discords among supporters. Disinformation such as the war is self-orchestrated while framing Russia by Ukraine is an example of ‘there is no war.’ ‘Zelensky has fled’ is typical ‘demoralization,’ and ‘the Ukrainian government is poisoning its citizens’ is justifying the invasion. In the Taiwanese context, it would be something like ‘Taiwan is part of China.’

Yu proposed that we should use the Internet to make democracy more resilient, not otherwise. He also considered social media self-regulating content on their platforms as a positive first step. Stopping all kinds of information manipulation in the short term is impossible. However, Yu encouraged every citizen to help record the information. One of the simplest ways would be forward disinformation we receive via LINE to Cofacts. Cofacts is a chatbot supported by a fact-checking community composed of volunteers. The community discloses every piece of information they receive to allow further research and analytic works by other parties. The results are helpful not only for future strategy but also accountability. He also urged the public to support relevant research and all stakeholders, including governments, academics, and enterprises, to work together in their own capacity, minimizing the impact of social media weaponization.  

Keynote #3. The Future of the International Law after the Russia-Ukraine Cyber Conflict by Alice Yang, Ph.D Assistant Research Fellow, Institute for National Defense and Security Research

Dr. Yang analyzed the Russian invasion from international law and military perspectives, including the application of international law in cyber conflicts, non-state actors (tech companies), and the development of international law. In principle, international law prohibits any state from using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any other state. While the interpretation of ‘use of force’ is often debatable, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was recognized by most countries as breaking international law. On the other hand, applying international law in cyber conflicts is also controversial in the sense that most countries can only agree on the applicability but not how it applies. There are no clear metrics in terms of the harms, scale, and impact to define an armed conflict. Meanwhile, while hours long electricity outrage caused by cyberattacks might not qualify as an armed conflict, it could be argued that the harm inflicted was great enough to break international law.

Dr. Yang also noted that cyberattack was not the main form of arm in the Russian invasion in spite of public speculation. Traditional arm force was still the mainstream, and it was suspected that this could be the result of Ukraine’s familiarity with cyberattacks ever since the Crimean crisis in 2014. It has also been proven that cyberattacks are the most impactful in hybrid warfare. It is also worth noting that disinformation is rarely taken into account in the context of cyber warfare.

Dr. Yang illustrated different levels and aspects of tactics in cyberattacks. For example, overloading the enemy’s network, deliberately feeding false intel to the opposite side, and forcing the enemy to change their strategy. In terms of the Russian invasion, it was clear that Russia was not as organized as Ukraine, with the latter receiving help from the United States. Tech companies have played a significant role in the war with their continuing support of internet connection, data, and map services and encouraging users to collect evidence of war on the social media platform.

The non-state actors have contributed in ways most governments could not. Dr. Yang noted that the motive of private sector could vary from state governments. Although private sector is not in the scope of international law, actions of both state and private sector can influence the development of international law. It would be interesting to watch how the two different actors strategize and prioritize in the future.


Q1:Some people claim that cyber warfare will become more complex and destructive and that the Internet and social media will be further weaponized. What do the panelists think?

A1:Yu: The public discourse and democratic development will always be subject to manipulation, platforms, and the public. The current information environment is already highly complex, and we as the participants in this environment are able to improve it. More and more corporations and organizations are starting to pay attention and effort to these issues, and Yo believes we will develop better strategies in the future. He also noted that the problematic information environment is not the same as cyberattacks. 

Q2:Could Yang from Microsoft share the most common malware/cyberattacks in the Russian invasion?

A2:Yang: according to Microsoft’s report, the “wiper”malware designed to “wipe” computer hard disks and destroy all their data was the most commonly observed. Ransomware was also common. Spear phishing is phishing aiming at specific targets. Although traditional, it remains popular for its effectiveness. 

Q3:Authoritarian regimes can easily invade democracies. On the other hand, democracies can not invade or fight back for their democratic principle. This is obviously unfair. Does democracy need to evolve? If so, how?

A3:Dr. Yang: international law prohibits any state from using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any other state. However, Russia has insisted on framing its action as a special military operation, never as ‘invasion’ or ‘war.’ As a lawyer herself, Dr. Yang considers protecting fairness in society despite the unfair environment her duty. Disinformation and political propaganda are not new; they are only worse due to social media. We will need to keep learning to improve our media literacy and defend ourselves.

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