SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is warning that the situation in Ukraine could lead to cyberattacks here in the United States. Russia has been the source of several attacks previously, though it is often hard to know exactly who is responsible.
"I think the Biden administration is trying to cover their bases," said Jacquelyn Schneider of Stanford's Hoover Institution. "They're not really sure of the extent of the crisis, in cyberspace or beyond."
The tensions in Ukraine suddenly don't feel quite as far away now that Homeland Security is warning that an escalation with Russia could produce cyberattacks here. But is an attack from Russia, necessarily an attack by Russia?
"It is actually really hard to know how much of the cyber activity occurring in Russia is officially condoned by the Putin regime," Schneider says.
Schneider thinks a Putin-directed attack on U.S. infrastructure is unlikely, but then there's the shadowy world of Russian hackers like the group behind the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack.
"So, are we going to see more criminal activity during a Russia-Ukraine crisis," she asks.
"If you're thinking about security right now, you're too late," said San Jose State University professor Ahmed Banafa "You have to have been thinking about it since we started the whole thing in 2020 with SolarWind."
Banafa says the cyber-conflict is an ongoing one, with plenty of likely targets beyond things like the power grid.
"When you talk about hard targets, you're talking about tech companies that are well-protected," said Banafa. "You're talking about banks. It shouldn't come as a surprise to the big companies. The big companies understand that they are under attack non-stop."
Attacks can come in so many shapes and forms - and from different actors. The threat is an uncertain one, just like the situation in Ukraine.
"We're really unsure about what the overall intentions of Russia and Putin are," said Schneider. "And that bleeds over into cyberspace."
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