According to Sky News, US Cyber Command’s head has confirmed that US military hackers conducted offensive operations in support Ukraine.
General Paul Nakasone, in an exclusive interview, also discussed how separate “hunt forward” operations allowed the United States to find foreign hackers and identify their tools prior to being used against America.
Tallinn, Estonia: The general, who is also the director of the National Security Agency, (NSA), stated that he is worried about a Russian cyber attack on the US every day and that the hunt forward activities are an effective way to protect both America and its allies.
General Nakasone confirmed that the US was carrying out offensive hacking operations to support Ukraine as a response to the Russian invasion.
Sky News was informed by him that he had conducted operations across all spectrums, including offensive, defensive, and information operations.
Although the four-star general didn’t detail the activities, he explained that they were legal, carried out with civilian oversight and in accordance to policy made at the Department of Defence.
He said, “My job is provide options to the secretary for defense and the president. And so that’s exactly what I do.” He refused to give details about those options.
He noted that the US, in contrast to Russia, conducts information operations starting with a lie. However, he said, they aim to strategically tell the truth.
He said, “A classic example is 2020, when there were a number of proxies. In this case, troll farms which were beginning to develop in Africa.”
Cyber Command and NSA shared this information to the FBI and CNN. This “flashlight that suddenly exposes” this type of malignant behaviour
This strategic disclosure, which General Nakasone has made since 2018, has informed the West’s response to the invasion in Ukraine.
“We had the opportunity to begin talking about the Russians’ intentions in our midterm elections. It was again evident in 2020 when we discussed what the Russians, Iranians, and others were planning to do. However, it was on a smaller scale.
He said, “The ability to share that information, being in a position to ensure accuracy, timely, and actionable on an even larger scale has been very, Very powerful in this crisis.”
Ukraine’s remarkable resilience
General Nakasone disagreed strongly with commentators who claimed that the cyber-attack on Ukraine was exaggerated and praised the resilience of the Kyiv government as well as its defenders.
“If you ask the Ukrainians, they won’t tell you it’s overblown.” You can see the disruptive and destructive attacks they’ve faced – you wrote about this in terms of Viasat’s attack on Viasat. This is an ongoing event,” he said.
The general said, “And this is what we’ve seen with regard to their attack on their satellite system, wiper attacks which have been ongoing, disruptive attacks upon their government processes.”
“This is a kind of the piece that I sometimes think is overlooked by the public. They have been extremely busy. It’s not like they haven’t been busy. Their resilience, I believe, is the most fascinating story for all of us.
Concern over Russian attacks on America
General Nakasone was asked how likely it was for Russia to attack the US. He replied, “We remain vigilant every day. Every single day. It is something I think about all the time.”
He said, “This is why they’re working together with a number of partners to ensure that we prevent that, both against the United States and against our allies,” he continued.
General Nakasone delivered the keynote speech at CyCon, an international conference about cyber conflict hosted by NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, Tallinn. He praised the strategic benefits of partnerships between democratic countries.
Hunt forward, an activity that was developed under General Nakasone’s direction, is a crucial aspect of Cyber Command’s partnerships. It is “so strong… because we see our enemies and expose their tools.”
Officially, the US, UK, and EU blame Russia for cyber attacks
Cyber Command specialists were deployed to 16 countries abroad where they could seek intelligence from allies’ computers networks. This was always on an invitation-only, consensual basis, General Nakasone stated.
Cyber Command sharing intelligence with the host country is crucial to hunt forward.
The general stated that if you are an adversary and have just spent a lot on a tool and want to use it in many different intrusions, suddenly it is outed and signed across a wide range of networks. You suddenly lose your ability to do so.”
One such forward hunt saw US military personnel present in Ukraine just before the invasion.
“We went to Kyiv in December 2021 on the invitation of the Kyiv government, to hunt with them.” The general stated that we stayed there for almost 90 days.”
A spokesperson confirmed that the team withdrew along with other Department of Defence personnel in February before the invasion.
Sky News will publish an entire feature based on our exclusive interview within the next few days.