The United States Cyber Command is now keeping an eye on individual Russian operatives in an effort to deter them from interfering with the upcoming midterms. The officials said that the initial first step will be notifying the operatives that Americans are aware of them and the kind of work they are doing. This is the first public cyber operation by the US to protect the country against Russian election meddling.
The US Justice Department had warned last week of an increasing threat of Russian “information warfare” that was largely aimed at influencing the elections. Defense officials who are involved in the cyber operation didn’t reveal how many Russians were targeted or the methods they were using in the operation. Also, it’s not clear whether the US operatives have been in touch directly with the Russians. However, officials in the US said that they didn’t intend to threaten Russians adding that the operation at the moment is designed to force deterrence moving forward. However, defense officials didn’t rule out the possibility of future indictments or sanctions against the targeted individuals.
Despite this, there are of course some skeptics who think that the response by the US has been quite measured, especially in the face of what appears to be a sophisticated and well-coordinated campaign by the Russians. However, US officials have maintained that the aim at the moment is to prevent any further escalation. Although the focus for Russians seems to be disinformation through social media and other online-based platforms, any potential escalation could lead to much bigger cyber threats, and this is not something that the US and Russia want now.
The US Cyber Command was founded back in 2009. Its objective was to help defend military networks against potential hacking but now it has more offensive capabilities. The Command has traditionally worked with the NSA and recent reports indicate that a joint committee between the two agencies has been working collaboratively over the last few months to identify and deter Russian operatives involved in disinformation campaigns. US officials maintained that this initial step is part of a broader strategy to counter such threats in the future. The Cyber Command is also sending teams in Europe to assist European allies in dealing with these issues too.
US intelligence officials have said that it’s very unlikely that Russian operatives will try to hack election machines or any related election infrastructure. However, it seems their main focus is to sway public opinion by spreading false information or fake news. Officials have noted that the disinformation campaign is well coordinated and it has become more refined lately targeting specific American groups. Intelligence officials involved in the matter also noted that the operatives targeted have been involved in other cyber-attacks against the US, not just the elections. The US is scheduled to vote on Congressional elections on November 6. Republicans are facing a tough race to retain control of the House and the Senate. The Russians who were blamed for interfering with the 2016 election have been stepping up their efforts to sway results this year too.