Biden bites back as US military hackers conduct ‘defensive’ operations to aid Ukraine

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The rare acknowledgment from US military officials is the first confirmation that the US is waging digital conflict against Moscow in support of the Kyiv government and underscores how important projecting power in cyberspace in support of Ukraine’s defences. General Paul Nakasone, who also serves as director of the National Security Agency, did not reveal details of the cyber hacking operations, but did say that they were lawful and conducted with civilian oversight.

In an interview with Sky News, Mr Nakasone said: “We have conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations.”

A spokesperson for the command did not dispute the accuracy of the article but declined to elaborate on what the command’s operations in Ukraine have entailed.

Mr Nakasone continued: “My job is to provide a series of options to the secretary of defence and the president, and so that’s what I do.”

It is unclear when the operations began or how many have occurred since Russia began its assault on Ukraine February 24.

When asked for comment, the Department of Defence directed The Post to a posture statement Mr Nakasone made to Congress in April in which he touted so-called “hunt forward” operations, which allow the US to identify foreign hackers and their tools before an attack.

The Cyber Command chief told lawmakers at the time: “When Moscow ordered the invasion in late February, we stepped up an already high operational tempo.

“We have been conducting additional hunt forward operations to identify network vulnerabilities.

“These operations have bolstered the resilience of Ukraine and our NATO Allies and partners.

“We provided remote analytic support to Ukraine and conducted network defence activities aligned to critical networks from outside Ukraine – directly in support of mission partners.

“In conjunction with interagency, private sector and Allied partners, we are collaborating to mitigate threats to domestic and overseas systems.”

Mr Nakasone’s comments, and the White House’s response to them, suggest that cyberspace is a domain in which the Biden administration feels comfortable countering Russia without fear of escalation, reports have stated.

President Joe Biden has pledged not to engage directly with Russia militarily during the Ukraine war so long as the US and its allies aren’t attacked.

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In March, President Biden warned US companies to tighten their digital defences due to “evolving intelligence” that indicated Russia could launch various cyberattacks in retaliation for US sanctions imposed in response to the Ukraine invasion.

“We don’t see it as such,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday when asked at a news conference whether Cyber Command’s actions contradicted Biden’s pledge.

Officials from President Biden administration have warned about the threat of retaliatory Russian cyberattacks against US infrastructure after the US and its allies imposed sweeping sanctions on the Kremlin over its war in Ukraine.

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