Cyber Defense News: Bracing for a Potential Russian Winter Offensive in Ukraine and Cyber-attacks Against U.S.

January 5, 2023

Potential for Russia to respond with cyber-attacks against U.S. organizations, such as financial, oil and gas, or manufacturing.

Executive Summary:  In Mid-October, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian Defense Ministry had almost reached its goal of 300,000 reservists activated to aid in his war effort in Ukraine. Russia is famous for fighting wars in winter including victories against the armies of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler. It is a source of pride for the Russian military to train and fight in cold weather. The Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines attended the annual Reagan National Defense forum in California and said, “We’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict… and we expect that’s likely to be what we see in the coming months.” This may be an optimistic viewpoint, but Russia could launch an offensive in the winter months when both NATO and Ukrainian forces are not prepared.  

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Analysis: Current Russian positions (as of 12 December 2022) show the Russian strongholds of the eastern part of the country encompassing the areas of Luhansk, Doentsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia. These are regions that the Russian Federation has formally announced as annexed, a claim that Kyiv and the United States refute strongly. We assess with moderate confidence the Russian Federation considers the annexation of these regions as their terms for victory and have activated and trained their reservists to launch an offensive during the coming winter to force Ukrainian forces back from these annexed regions and create a strong defensive perimeter before the coming spring.  

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DeepSeas Assessment of Cyber Impact: DeepSeas Cyber Threat Intelligence assesses with moderate confidence that Russia will increase cyber operations along with their winter offensive. With increasing sanctions from the United States expected, those cyber operations will target the United States and other NATO affiliated countries. During the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, DeepSeas Cyber Threat Intelligence analysts observed Russian threat actors using an enhanced development cycle, which allowed their implants to stay ahead of automated security controls by changing their implants and adding functionality quickly. To counter this tactic, DeepSeas investigated the heuristics of the Russian threat actors to develop signatures based on the activity of these malware implants rather than their individual indicators.  

In the event of increased sanctions or military activity from NATO, there is a potential Russia will respond with cyber-attacks against U.S. organizations such as financial, oil and gas, or manufacturing. There is also a likelihood of Russia continuing cyber operations against the energy sector in Europe during winter to force Europe into negotiating for Russian energy supplies.  

DeepSeas remains resolutely calm during times of heightened activity and continually provides timely intelligence to aid our customers in the defense of their networks.