Although the United States is bracing for retaliatory Russian cyberattacks, experts in the field say the Kremlin is likely still weighing whether destructive action in cyberspace is worth the blowback.
Russia has shown cyber restraint, at least for the moment, even as the West imposes sanctions that have quickly strangled its economy and targeted government leaders and oligarchs.
“The question is not ‘can Russia carry out cyberattacks against Europe or the United States,’ ” said Melissa Griffith, a senior program associate with the science and technology innovation program at The Wilson Center.
“The question is ‘what would Russia have to gain from and what would they risk by carrying out cyberattacks against the United States and Europe.’ ”
Griffith added that intentionally crippling U.S. critical infrastructure through a cyberattack is “risky and unwise” as the U.S. prepares to take countermeasures against Russia, such as imposing further economic sanctions.
The U.S. and Western Europe have taken unprecedented measures against Russia, cutting the country off from roughly $600 billion in reserves held by the Central Bank of Russia, cutting off Russian access to the U.S. dollar and banning the state banks from using SWIFT, a messaging system used by banks to conduct international transactions.
U.S. lawmakers and NATO officials have also raised the possibility that destructive cyberattacks on infrastructure or militaries could trigger NATO’s Article 5, which says that an act of war against any member will trigger a response from the full alliance.
Michael Daniel, CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance and a former cybersecurity official during the Obama administration, said that Russia is “definitely going to be cautious on doing things that could be escalatory.”
But that hasn’t eased U.S. fears of Russian aggression in cyberspace.