Russia’s Cyber Strategies

By William Beard, Jr on December 2, 2021

(By: William Beard on November 4, 2021)

Executive Summary

There has been an uptick in fourth and fifth-generation warfare in the last few decades and a major player in that has been Russia.  It is no secret that Russia has always wanted to be the dominant world power and has often geared its war fighting strategies towards that end.  Russia has not missed a beat when it comes to using fourth and fifth-generation warfare to further that goal in the cyber domain.  It has used both fourth and fifth-generation warfare as its main strategies in its cyber conflicts.


Fourth-generation warfare is defined as the use of nonstate actors to further the state agenda.  This is typically done using “cultures, tribes, sects, and mercenaries” [2].  Fifth-generation warfare consists of using perception and information as weapons to manipulate the masses world view to discredit or cause distrust of a group, state, or country.  Since the earlier 2000s Russia has weaved fourth and fifth-generation warfare tactics into its military strategies.

Russia has used these strategies in the cyber domain to disrupt and control the information.  Russia typically uses propaganda, hacktivists, trolls, and bots to manipulate the cyber domain.  They have used hacktivists groups such as “CyberCaliphate” and “CyberBerkut” to attack French TV stations and conduct “distributed denial of service attacks against NATO, Ukraine, and German government websites” [1].  They also use troll armies to manipulate the narrative of online message boards to favor that of Russian interests.  Bots are often used to push specific content on social media at a rate which can overwhelm the reader and a discourage them from looking for real information. 

Russia does not only focus its efforts on the attack side of the cyber domain but, has taken great steps to improving its cyber defense capabilities as well.  “The Russian Federation Security Council’s 2016 Information Security Doctrine” goes as far and as stating the need to create a national system that allows for government control of the internet and information warfare weapons and forces. 


Russia’s mindset has allowed them to sponsor hacktivist groups and other threat actors to push their world views and goals without direct interaction with their adversaries.  Many hacking groups associated with Russia such as DarkMatter and DarkSide have attacked critical infrastructure in the United States over the past decade and these attacks are on the rise.  DarkSide is believed to be responsible for the Colonial Pipeline attack that was detected in May of 2021.  DarkMatter which is made up of former members of DarkSide is believed to be responsible for the New Cooperative supply chain attack in September 2021.   


The United States has roughly 464,200 open cyber security jobs to date.  Filling those openings while educating the masses on the importance of cyber security would go a long way in preventing further interference via fourth and fifth-generation warfare tactics from Russia in the future. 


China has become the United States focus in the cyber warfare domain but, Russia is also a very big threat to national security and should not be overlooked.  Understanding their use of fourth and fifth-generation warfare in the cyber domain can help the United States and its allies to develop a sound security strategy to combat these cyber threats.