US ramps up offensive and defensive cyber operations

2 Jun 2022

Image: © Dmitry/Stock.adobe.com

The head of the NSA has confirmed ‘a series of operations’ in support of Ukraine, while the FBI blocked a planned cyberattack on a children’s hospital.

In an interview with Sky News, the head of US Cyber Command confirmed that US military hackers have conducted offensive hacking operations in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

General Paul Nakasone, who is also director of the US National Security Agency (NSA), said: “We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive [and] information operations.”

According to Reuters, the White House said the offensive cyber activity would not be a violation of the US policy of avoiding direct military conflict with Russia.

The comments from Nakasone came yesterday (1 June), the same day FBI director Christopher Wray said his organisation had blocked a planned cyberattack on the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Speaking at a Boston College cybersecurity conference, Wray said malicious hackers tried to conduct “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve seen” on the hospital in the summer of 2021.

“We got a report from one of our intelligence partners indicating Boston Children’s was about to be targeted. And, understanding the urgency of the situation, the cyber squad in our Boston field office raced to notify the hospital,” he said.

“Our folks got the hospital’s team the information they needed to stop the danger right away. We were able to help them ID and then mitigate the threat.”

He added that hospitals and other areas of critical infrastructure continue to be at risk from cybercriminals.

Attacks have already been seen both in the US and across the world, such as the attack on the Colonial Pipeline and the ransomware attack affecting Ireland’s own Health Service Executive last year.

Ongoing cyberthreats

While cyberattacks are far from new and can come from anywhere, organisations in the US have been ramping up cyber defences for several months amid growing concerns around the threat of Russian cyberattacks.

In March, US president Joe Biden warned companies operating in the country to bolster their security efforts, adding that malicious cyber activity is “part of Russia’s playbook”.

The US, along with its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, expressed concerns about the threat of Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks on critical infrastructure systems.

However, in the wake of the thwarted cyberattack on the Boston Children’s Hospital, which Wray alleged came from Iranian government-backed hackers, he said: “We can’t let up on China or Iran or criminal syndicates while we’re focused on Russia.”

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Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com