U.S. cyber experts and state elections officials fear that the Russians are saving their cyber weapons for the midterm elections, The Hill reported.
Although Moscow has restrained from unleashing cyberattacks on the U.S. despite sanctions that have affected the Russian economy, the possibility increases as tensions continue to rise while President Vladimir Putin continues his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
"I do think that the chances are higher that we see a ramp up in cyber activity by the Russians as the conflict drags on; it's less of what I would have expected at this point, but the elections are certainly in play," Jamil Jaffer, founder and executive director of the National Security Institute at George Mason University, told The Hill.
"The Russians' goal is to create internal discord in the United States."
Jaffer said the extent of nefarious Russian cyber activity heading into the midterms will depend on how much support the U.S. is providing Ukraine, and also on the Kremlin's goals for the 2024 presidential election.
Russian efforts could include deploying disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks — e.g. spreading malware, hacking into the emails of election officials — to disrupt networks and gain access to confidential information, experts said.
"It would not be surprising at all if the Russians sought to influence the 2022 elections, particularly given the situation that they're facing in Ukraine and the act of U.S. support for Ukraine," Jaffer told the Hill.
U.S. intelligence officials said Russia attempted to penetrate the voter rolls of at least 20 states prior to the 2016 presidential election, The Hill said.
Colorado's Secretary of State Jena Griswold, D-Colo., told The Hill she expected Moscow's cyber plan to focus on creating division along party lines and suppressing voter turnout.
"If recent elections are any indication, we will again be finding election disinformation and cyber threats from foreign adversaries," Griswold told The Hill.
During a recent House Judiciary Committee, FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran was asked about Aleksei Burkov, a Russian cybercriminal who was originally sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020.
Burkov was deported back to his native Russia last September, and some officials worry that he could play a central role in any future cyberattacks.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said he was "still relatively amazed" that Russia has "not really launched the level of maliciousness that their cyber arsenal includes."
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