The Fifth Column in the Ukrainian Conflict: Cyber-Warfare

Cyber-warfare, or the use of computers for a strategic military purpose is currently taking place on both sides of the current crisis in the Crimea. These attacks by “hacktivists,” or patriotic hackers, target vulnerable infrastructure, such as telecommunications, financial networks, or energy industries, and disrupt their operations. Russia has two notable past precedents in this method of warfare; Russian hackers and criminal botnets disabled Estonian internet capabilities in 2007 during “Web War 1,” and a cyber-blackout covered Russian troops as they advanced in Georgia in 2008. Telecommunications in Ukraine have already been targeted. Ukrinform, the state news agency, and the Security and Defense Council were hit by a denial of service attack, shutting down communications. Furthermore, the phones of Ukrainian parliamentarians were jammed, delaying governmental command and control. The Ukrainians blamed the Russian military for the attack. A Ukrainian “hacktivist group,” Cyber-Berkut, retorted by changing the Russian Today online homepage, switching ‘Russians” with “Nazis.” While these propaganda and psychological attacks will continue, former CIA agent Marty Martin claimed that attacks against other critical infrastructure or outright shutdown would not occur, as “If you do that, then you don’t get your flow of intelligence. You are probably better off monitoring it.” Much like the spies and revolutionaries of previous conflicts, cyber-warfare is the new fifth column to pave the way for invading armies.


Bergen, Peter and Tim Maurer. “Cyberwar Hits Ukraine.” CNN. March 7, 2014.

CNN. “Are Russian Forces Using Cyber Warfare?” Youtube. March 7, 2014.

The Economist. “Cyberwar: War in the Fifth Domain.” July 1, 2010.

Lee, David. “Russia and Ukraine in Cyber ‘Stand-Off.’” BBC. March 5, 2014.

Polityuk, Pavel. “Ukrainian Authorities Suffer New Cyber Attacks.” Edited by Timothy Heritage. Reuters.

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