WHILE the world is focusing on the state-on-state conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which involves organised, uniformed and professional military forces using massed firepower in open confrontation, in an average person’s mind, the battling forces on each side are well-defined and fight by using weapons that target primarily the opponent’s military.
This is a battle that is normally fought using small arms, defensive shields and light weapons, sea and land mines, as well as bombs, shells, rockets, missiles and cluster munitions, but not chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.
This yesteryear, conventional military warfare has given way to a hybrid warfare that involves cyberattacks, information campaigns, and an array of other non-violent pressure.
With the growth of the use of technology worldwide the fighting groups have also been looking at disabling each other’s systems and infrastructures. So far there have been at least 150 cyberattacks (as of March 11) in Ukraine since its invasion by Russia.
While those hackers from around the world that sympathise with the Ukrainian forces fighting against the Russian military’s invasion are causing disruption to Russia’s digital infrastructure, Anonymous and the Cyber Partisans, well-known hacking groups, have claimed responsibility for cyberattacks on Russia’s banks, state broadcaster RT, and a Belarusian rail network that is reported to have been used to move Russian troops to Ukraine.
In Zimbabwe there is a perception that the Russian state broadcaster RT was removed from DSTV yet it is the “biggest Anonymous op ever seen” publicly claiming responsibility for hacking Russian news channels like Russia 24, Channel One and Moscow 24, including streaming sites, which showed footage of Russia’s actions in Ukraine as the invasion entered the 12th day.
Above that the group has claimed credit for hacking the Russian Ministry of Defence database, and are believed to have hacked multiple state TV channels to show pro-Ukraine content.
A cyber conflict is fought in the shadows, but in the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a group that is called Anonymous has made the most public declaration of war.
Late on Thursday last week the hackers collectively tweeted from an account linked to Anonymous, @YourAnonOne, that it had Vladimir Putin’s regime in its sights.
Today’s cyber warfare is usually defined as a cyberattack or series of attacks that target a country. It has the potential to wreak havoc on government and civilian infrastructure and disrupt critical systems, resulting in damage to the state and even loss of life.
Peace talks between the Russia and Ukraine countries are ongoing between the two nations, but there is no doubt that what remains unclear is how long the bloodshed will last.
As the war rages on, these cyber groups have said that they stand with Ukraine against Russia’s powerful online forces, causing disruption to stop the country’s attacks against Ukraine and the West.
Coming back to Africa, the ability of most African states to prevent or respond to cyberattacks by state-backed hackers would appear limited. African countries tend to have low levels of cyber maturity and possess limited offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.
Virtually all rely on foreign actors to supply critical information infrastructure and manage data using cloud technologies. This limits sovereign control over the electronic information produced by African citizens and renders tech stacks in countries across the continent vulnerable to compromise.
African governments and regional organisations have already been targeted by some high-profile state-sponsored attacks. Though few African states can compete with the world’s major cyber powers, the region is not inherently more susceptible to state-sponsored cyber threats.
Like other regions, Africa faces its own series of opportunities and challenges in the cyber domain. For now, low levels of digitisation limit the exposure of many countries in comparison to the world’s more connected, technology-dependent regions. As internet-penetration rates increase, African states can draw on established good practices, international partnerships, and regional cooperation to identify, prevent, and respond to state-sponsored cyber espionage or sabotage of critical infrastructure.
- Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments (Pvt) Ltd and the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.