Russian cyber attacks: A new Cold War?

By Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent
Nothing is as easy, or alluring, as an apt historical comparison.
So, when the Foreign Office releases a list of "reckless and indiscriminate" Russian cyber attacks, the images come swiftly to mind: Stalin, Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall.But before we declare a new Cold War, we would be wise to pause. Thinking in analogue terms may be precisely what gets us into trouble.The foreign secretary is clearly alert to this danger.In his statement on Wednesday, he notes that several of the cyber attacks damaged Russian institutions as well as foreign ones.He blames the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, not the Russian people. This is not in any sense a declaration of war.It is, however, a clear warning, one that deserves to be taken extremely seriously.The Foreign Office statement contains little news; Russian military intelligence was already linked to most of the attacks it lists. But it confirms what has been suspected for some time.Not only are Russian agents spreading fake news and propaganda through social networks, but its teams of hackers are worming their way into key Western institutions, leaving destruction and demoralisation in their wake.
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To put it mildly, this is very worrying.The announcement also highlights a further worry: the difficulty of dealing with cyber aggression.Seeing the attacks collected together, what is striking is their sheer range.The targets include everything from a UK television station, to the United States Democratic Party, to Ukrainian metro lines - a group united only by the fact that they use digital systems.Here, in a nutshell, is the danger. If anything that uses a computer can be attacked, then what are the limits for an assailant?

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Then there is what military strategists refer to as "asymmetry".Put simply, cyber tools give weak states the opportunity to strike against powerful ones.
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