Russia is conducting cyberwarfare operations against Ukraine as part of its military incursion into Crimea, the Navy admiral designated to be the next commander of U.S. Cyber Command told Congress this week.
Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, the nominee to head Cybercom and the National Security Agency, also said his biggest challenge if he is confirmed for the posts will be dealing with the threat of cyberattacks and penetrations of U.S. computer networks.
Under questioning from members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Adm. Rogers confirmed the Russian cyberattacks while reserving details for a closed session of the committee.
“We clearly see that there’s an ongoing cyber element to the challenges in the Ukraine at the moment,” the three-star admiral said.
Pressed for details, Adm. Rogers acknowledged that Russia’s military possesses sophisticated cyberwarfare capabilities and could inflict considerable damage on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, such as telecommunications and government networks.
According to U.S. officials, the Russians have conducted cyberstrikes against Ukrainian telecommunications networks as part of the incursion into Crimea, where Moscow sent at least 10,000 troops after the ouster of pro-Moscow President Victor Yanukovych. The forces are in a standoff against a small number of Ukrainian military units.
“Clearly, cyber will be an element of almost any crisis we’re going to see in the future,” Adm. Rogers aid. “It has been in the past. I believe we see it today in the Ukraine. We’ve seen it in Syria, Georgia.”
A U.S. official said the website of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council was shut down Tuesday in a cyberattack.
The cyberattacks involved what officials said was a sophisticated malicious software called Snake that some analysts have compared to the U.S. Stuxnet malware used to destroy some Iranian nuclear centrifuges a few years ago.
That software allows remote users — believed in Ukraine to be part of the Russian GRU military intelligence service — to conduct cyberespionage and digital attacks that could destroy data or disable networks.
On dealing with cyberthreats, Adm. Rogers said: “Adversaries today seek persistent presences on military, government, and private networks for purposes such as exploitation and potentially disruption.”
In written answers to questions posed by the committee, he stated: “We as a military and a nation are not well positioned to deal with such threats. These intruders have to be located, blocked, and extracted, sometimes over long periods of time.”
U.S. information systems and networks and communications networks are vulnerable, and U.S. military forces lack training and readiness “to confront advanced threats in cyberspace,” he said.
AL QAEDA IN AFGHANISTAN
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan revealed Wednesday that al Qaeda terrorists in the country have been weakened in military counterterrorism operations. But the terrorist group is expanding cooperation with other extremist networks in the country, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford said in written testimony to the Senate Committee on Armed Services.