Cyberattacks have yet to play a significant role in Russia’s battlefield operations in Ukraine – cyberwarfare experts explain the likely reasons
Throughout the latter half of 2021, as it became clear that Russia was massing a large portion of its conventional combat power on the eastern borders of Ukraine, analysts offered contrasting predictions about the role cyberspace would play in an armed conflict. These predictions capture an ongoing debate about whether conflict in cyberspace is destined to supplant conventional conflict or exacerbate it.
We are political scientists who study the role of cybersecurity and information in international conflict. Our research shows that the reason pundits on both sides of the argument got it wrong is because they failed to consider that cyber and military operations serve different political objectives.
Cyber operations are most effective in pursuing informational goals, such as gathering intelligence, stealing technology or winning public opinion or diplomatic debates. In contrast, nations use military operations to occupy territory, capture resources, diminish an opponent’s military capability and terrorize a population.
A tactical role for cyberattacks?
It’s common in modern warfare for new technologies to substitute for traditional military tactics. For example, the U.S. has made extensive use of drones, including in conflicts in Yemen and Pakistan where crewed aircraft and ground forces would be difficult or impossible to use. Because drones allow the U.S. to fight on the cheap with much less risk, they substitute for other forms of warfare.