Shields up once again
On North Korea's heavy industry, critical infrastructure at home and abroad, and Microsoft's urgent warning to the world
Microsoft warns that the world ought to be alert to the likelihood of increasing cyberwarfare as Russia continues to prosecute its indefensible and extremely expensive war against Ukraine. The technology company warns that "Moscow has intensified its multi-pronged hybrid technology approach to pressure the sources of Kyiv's military and political support, domestic and foreign."
■ The hazard of increasing escalation seems likely to persist, particularly as the conventional arsenals of autocracy are running low. Russia has been buying artillery shells from North Korea and attack drones from Iran, not because they are the world's preeminent industrial suppliers, but because Russia is using up munitions at a pace it cannot sustain by its own supply.
■ Any decent appreciation for the facts causes the reasonable observer to side with Ukraine on the merits alone. Russia started the war without provocation or justification; Ukraine is defending itself. That much is plain.
■ The just and decent solution would be for Russia to withdraw and leave its neighbor in peace. But, as Christopher Blattman observed in Foreign Affairs, it's unlikely for a country to back down "when leaders think defeat threatens their very survival, when leaders do not have a clear sense of their strength and that of their enemy, and when leaders fear that their adversary will grow stronger in the future." All three conditions can be presumed to affect the Kremlin right now.
■ As things continue to go badly for Russia in conventional terms (supplies are running low and casualties are extremely high), it is entirely rational to be alarmed that it may turn to unconventional and hybrid weapons and tactics. Those tactics are quite likely to affect people far from the battlefields. A missile has a predictable and finite range from its launching point; a computer virus often does not.
■ And the immateriality of cyberwarfare -- the ability to cause damage or inflict pain upon an opponent without having to tap the resources of a physical arsenal -- is enough to make the approach much more attractive to the belligerent parties. Scruples aren't holding the Kremlin back: In Microsoft's research, 55% of the Ukrainian organizations targeted by Russia since the war began "were critical infrastructure organizations, including in the energy, transportation, water, law enforcement and emergency services, and health care sectors."
■ It's distressing that circumstances have come to this, but whether anyone likes it or not, the conditions are such that cyber-escalation seems highly probable and de-escalation seems vanishingly unlikely. The leading challenge is to get the global public (outside of Ukraine) to take self-protective action and invest time and resources in preventative measures for which success would be measured by what doesn't happen. That's a tough sell -- but an increasingly necessary one.