Depending on your definition of war, or who you listen to, we may very well be. Although the Russian cyber-attacks against JP Morgan and other Wall Street firms are certainly an unconventional form of warfare, the FBI is investigating the Russian hacker’s attacks as retaliation for U.S. government-sponsored sanctions. These attacks are similar to the coordinated attacks on Estonia and Georgia carried out by Russian hackers.
There are differences, though. The attacks in Georgia and Estonia were aimed at government websites and had a political component that is missing from the attacks on the Wall Street firms. The information stolen from JP Morgan could be sold online or used to access the compromised accounts.
“Russia has a policy of reactionary attacks in relation to political contexts,” said John Hultquist, a cybersecurity expert with iSight. “When it comes to countries outside their sphere of influence, those attacks would be more surreptitious.”
Even if the attacks are directly linked to the Russian government and are in response to the increased sanctions imposed by the U.S., the response from our government will likely be muted. President Obama has already shown an unwillingness to pursue action harsher than sanctions.
”The European Union is joining us in imposing major sanctions on Russia — it’s most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date,” Obama said at the end of July. “It’s not a new Cold War. What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”
Even though there is no direct link between the attacks and the Russian government, the timing of the attacks and the sophistication of how they were carried out raises questions about who is behind them and where they get their support. Breaching JP Morgan’s security is no easy feat.
“Companies of our size unfortunately experience cyber-attacks nearly every day,” Patricia Wexler, a spokesperson for JPMorgan said. “We have multiple layers of defense to counteract any threats and constantly monitor fraud levels.”
With the increase in cyber-attacks originating in Eastern Europe and Russia over the last several months, the link between them and Russia’s ongoing conflicts with its neighbors needs to be reexamined. Even if Russia is not supporting the hackers, the government has shown its willingness to use them against other governments. Coming at the same time as increased Russian aggression in the Ukraine and the naked threat of using nuclear weapons spouted by Putin, this is very reminiscent of Soviet actions during the 80s.
Whether we are at war or not depends on your definition of the term. No one has died because of these cyber-attacks, nor are they likely to, but if Russia is behind them, they are directly attacking the United States and whether our government will admit it, we are back in a Cold War.
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