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Cyberattacks Are Just One Part of Hybrid Warfare

Photographer: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, was immediate top news worldwide due to eyewitness accounts and images of missile strikes shared on television and social media. By contrast, a near-simultaneous cyberattack on satellite systems that Ukraine relied on to coordinate troop and drone movements — systems that also provided broadband service to more than 100,000 internet users in at least 13 countries across Europe and North Africa — was cloaked in mystery for weeks, and to this day Russia’s government denies any involvement in it. Such is the nature of the modern form of combat known as hybrid warfare, which marries unambiguous brute force with stealth, subterfuge and heaps of plausible deniability.

It’s a term for the mixing of conventional and unconventional tactics — violent and nonviolent, virtual and real-world, overt and covert — that countries can deploy against each other. They include state-on-state cyberattacks — cyberwarfare — as well as disinformation, economic pressure, propaganda, sabotage and the use of irregular forces, such as uniformed soldiers without identifying insignia. Hybrid warfare is “used to blur the lines between war and peace and attempt to sow doubt in the minds of target populations,” according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Ambiguity and plausible deniability are hallmarks of hybrid warfare.