Fri | Jun 14, 2024 | 5:17 AM PDT

The fourth annual SecureWorld Eastern virtual conference provided a glimpse into the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape facing nations, businesses, and the very integrity of democratic elections worldwide. As cyberattacks and malicious campaigns grow increasingly sophisticated and pervasive, the event underscored the urgent need for robust defensive strategies across both the public and private sectors.

Two sessions in particular highlighted the escalating dangers, one analyzing the cyber warfare operations unfolding between Russia and Ukraine, and another delving into the concerning array of cyber threats endangering electoral processes globally.

Experts expressed grave concerns over the potential for advanced persistent threats to disrupt critical operations, undermine core institutions, and even influence geopolitical outcomes.

The cyber battlefield in Ukraine and beyond

In a joint session, Col. Cedric Leighton, CNN Military Analyst, and VJ Viswanathan, Founding Partner at CYFORIX, analyzed the cyber warfare operations unfolding between Russia and Ukraine. They revealed how Ukraine has rapidly developed offensive and defensive cyber capabilities to counter relentless Russian attacks during the ongoing war.

"One of the interesting things is that Ukraine has a pretty robust cyber defensive capability, as well as a cyber offensive capability.... What they did was they carried out a powerful denial, distributed denial of service attack on several important Russian internet services," Col. Leighton said. "The ministries that were impacted were none other than the Defense Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and Internal Affairs, which is the police ministry. Then you have the justice ministry as well as industry and energy, information technology and communications and emergency situations."

Leighton and Viswanathan provided insights into major Russian cyberattacks targeting Ukrainian government entities and critical infrastructure. They also spotlighted Russia's coordinated disinformation campaigns leveraging social media to spread fabricated news stories and stage protests aimed at undermining political stability in Germany and other European nations such as Austria.

[RELATED: Russian Disinformation Machine Revs Up Ahead of Paris Olympics]

The two experts outlined how Russian state-backed hacking groups have targeted infrastructure across Europe, including voter registration databases and transportation systems during election seasons. They emphasized the U.S. Cyber Command's push for greater acquisition authority to bolster national cyber defenses and enable offensive cyber operations.

Defending democracy's critical infrastructure

In another compelling session, Hemanth Tadepalli, Cybersecurity and Compliance Engineer for May Mobility, delved into the concerning cyber threats endangering the integrity of elections worldwide. He highlighted major risks like data breaches, voter suppression tactics, misinformation and disinformation, and the potential impact of disruptive deepfakes.

Tadepalli stressed the diverse array of hostile actors targeting elections, stating: "State-sponsored actors, contractors, and others working for the government pose the most serious risks to our elections. These actors combine resources and cyber intrusion techniques with disruptive capabilities in Information Operations."

Citing real incidents like the 2023 cyberattack on the U.K. Electoral Commission and the 2014 breach of Ukraine's election systems, Tadepalli discussed the ability of hostile nation-states, contractors, and cybercriminals to target this critical infrastructure. He spotlighted how hacking groups like Russia's Fancy Bear have targeted elections potentially for geopolitical objectives beyond just disrupting the polls.

A key issue raised was the cyber vulnerabilities in electronic voting infrastructure, including outdated machines, lack of security standards, and potential entry points for remote manipulation. Tadepalli advocated for strong cybersecurity controls, auditing mechanisms, and implementing safeguards like mandatory paper backups as per the U.S. SAFE Act to secure digital voting.

Both sessions painted a sobering picture of advanced persistent threats in the cyber domain capable of disrupting operations, undermining institutions, and even influencing geopolitical events. Experts emphasized the need for continued vigilance, consistent security upgrades, and comprehensive risk management strategies to prevail against these potent cyber adversaries.

If you are interested in learning more from these and other presenters at the virtual conference, all of the sessions are available to watch on-demand by registering here.