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US Cyber Command releases details on cyber defensive operations in Ukraine

US Cyber Command has published details for the first time on its “hunt forward” mission in Ukraine. It was carried out before and after Russia’s invasion at the end of February.

In a statement to the press, CYBERCOM said that the mission consisted of a joint team of Navy and Marine Corps operators. They worked with local teams of Ukrainian specialists to look for and detect malicious cyber activity on Ukrainian networks.

According to CYBERCOM, the mission, conducted alongside Ukrainian Cyber Command personnel, lasted from December 2021 to March 2022. At the end of 2021, Russia was already executing cyberattacks in Ukraine.

Americans were operating with the consent of Ukraine and deployed CYBERCOM’s largest hunt forward team yet.

Kyiv provided the hunt forward teams with access to multiple networks, and work continued until days before Russia launched a wide-scale invasion of the neighboring country.

It’s not clear whether American specialists had already finished the mission when the Russians attacked. They aimed to discover whether Russian hackers had already infiltrated Ukrainian systems, hiding deep inside.

“Cyber National Mission Force was honored to work side-by-side with our Ukrainian partners, hunting adversaries on their networks with them,” US Army Major General William J. Hartman, commander of Cyber National Mission Force, said.

“This sort of mission was critical to both our nations’ defenses in cyberspace – particularly in the face of Russian aggression – and reflects our enduring partnership with Ukraine.”

The team, consisting of around 40 personnel from across the US armed service, was present in Ukraine in mid-January when Russia began executing cyberattacks on Ukrainian systems. CYBERCOM insists hunt forward operations were “purely defensive activities.”

“They are key to CYBERCOM’s persistent engagement strategy, aimed at defending and disrupting malicious cyber activities and bolstering the homeland defense of the US and our partner nations,” the agency said.

And it seems the effort paid off. Russia failed to take down Ukrainian computer systems at the beginning of the year, despite many analysts’ predictions.

Ukraine has been stridently defending its territory in cyberspace. What’s more, the country’s cyber forces have been targeting systems within Russia, such as railway networks – the US assistance is unofficial at best because Washington doesn’t want to be held a direct participant in the conflict by Moscow.

Since 2014, Ukraine has witnessed some of the world's most significant cyberattacks, including a remote switch-off of a power station in the dead of winter.

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