US intelligence report warns about cyber threat from Russia

The United States intelligence agencies expect Russia to continue cyber operations against Ukraine in 2018 with possible use of new capabilities, according to the Worldwide Threat Assessment report by U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats published on Feb. 13.

“Russia is likely to build on the wide range of operations it is already conducting, including disruption of Ukrainian energy distribution networks, hack-and-leak influence operations, distributed denial-of-service attacks, and false flag operations,” the report reads.

The U.S. intelligence also don’t expect Ukraine to regain control of the occupied areas of Donbas this year, while Russia will be trying to use nation’s frustration of the slow pace of reforms to undermine Ukraine’s government.

On a global scale, U.S. expect Russia to continue its propaganda campaign to weaken Western sanctions, encourage anti-US political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions.

War in Ukraine: No escalation, yet no end

The U.S. intelligence agencies don’t expect Russia’s slight economic growth won’t trigger concessions from Moscow in Ukraine, Syria, or elsewhere in the next year.

The report says that Russia might use Ukraine’s political instability to undermine Kyiv’s pro-West orientation, which might threaten Ukraine’s nascent economic recovery.

“Russia will continue its military, political, and economic destabilization campaign against Ukraine to stymie and, where possible, reverse Kyiv’s efforts to integrate with the EU and strengthen ties to NATO, ” the report says.

The war in eastern Ukraine is likely to remain stalemated with fluctuating sparks of violence, according to the report.

“A major offensive by either side is unlikely in 2018, although each side’s calculus could change if it sees the other as seriously challenging the status quo,” the report says.

The U.S. also warns that Russia might modulate levels of violence to pressure Kyiv and shape negotiations in Its favor. Meanwhile, Russia will try to persuade some western countries to put off sanctions.

Cyber threats

The report reads that Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea will pose the greatest cyber threats to the United States during the next year.

The U.S. intelligence agencies are concerned about state-sponsored cyber-attacks against Ukraine and Saudi Arabia in 2016-2017 amid the growing risk of cyber-attacks in the U.S. Those attacks targeted multiple sectors across critical infrastructure, government, and commercial networks.

“The risk is growing that some adversaries will conduct cyber-attacks—such as data deletion or localized and temporary disruptions of critical infrastructure—against the United States in a crisis short of war,” the report reads.

The 2018 U.S. mid-term elections are a potential target for Russian influence operations, which are described as a “low-cost and relatively low-risk and deniable ways to retaliate against adversaries, to shape foreign perceptions, and to influence populations.”

To reach that, Russia will continue to use propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople as well as other cyber tools.

“We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views,” the report says.

Ukraine’s domestic politics

The report also says that Ukraine might find itself amid domestic turmoil which Russia could exploit to undermine Kyiv’s pro-West orientation in 2018.

The threatening factors named in the report are frustration with slow pace of reforms and perceptions of worsening corruption.  These factors, the report argues, can lead to an early election – even though both presidential and legislative elections are scheduled to take place in 2019.

“Opposition politicians will use dissatisfaction to weaken President Petro Poroshenko and the ruling coalition ahead of the elections,” the report reads.

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