WASHINGTON — A new examination of how Russia used its cyber capabilities during the first months of the war in Ukraine contains a number of surprises: Moscow carried out more cyberattacks than was realized at the time to strengthen his invasion, but more than two-thirds of them failed, echoing his poor performance on the physical battlefield.
However, the study, published by Microsoft on Wednesday, suggested that President Vladimir V. Putin’s government was doing more than many expected with its disinformation campaign to establish a pro-Russian narrative of the war, including by arguing that the United States was secretly producing biological weapons inside Ukraine.
The report is the latest effort by many groups, including US intelligence agencies, to understand the interplay of brutal physical warfare with a parallel – and often coordinated – struggle in cyberspace. He said Ukraine was well prepared to fend off cyberattacks, having endured them for many years. This was due at least in part to a well-established system of warnings from private sector companies, including Microsoft and Google, and preparations that included moving many of Ukraine’s most important systems to the cloud, on servers outside Ukraine.
The narrative of Russia’s cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns showed that only 29% of attacks broke through targeted networks – in Ukraine, the United States, Poland and the Baltics. But it points to a more successful ongoing effort to dominate the information war, in which Russia has blamed Washington and Kyiv for starting the conflict now raging in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The war is the first large-scale battle in which traditional and cyber weapons have been used side by side, and the race is on to explore the unprecedented dynamics between the two. So far, very little of this momentum has developed as expected.