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Putin’s Cyber OODA Loop is Tighter Than Yours

While hosting a delegation from France, Putin advised that to prevent cyber attacks, nations will have to establish international norms prohibiting such behavior.

“This is what I can say about cyberattacks or war of words in the press and other issues. Action always causes reaction. Always. If one does not want to get a reaction he does not like, rules for actions need to be set. When the humanity invented nuclear weapons, everyone realized how dangerous it is and agreed on rules, which were aimed at preventing a tragedy. It’s obvious that cyber now is a most important field affecting millions of people. Let’s agree on how we work in it.”

The action and reaction sentiment will resonate with disciples of Colonel John Boyd, but there are several interesting aspects of that one statement to unpack.

Putin Loves Cyber Operations

The Putin regime has fully adopted cyber operations as a component of international relations and an appropriate tool to use in “reaction” to other global measures like sanctions or regional interference. In fact, Putin quickly co-mingled the failed Iranian agreement and associated sanctions with the discussion by stating that:

“We never acknowledged any unilateral restrictions. One only needs to read the UN Charter to learn that unilateral sanctions are illegitimate, unlawful. That’s it. That was, is and will be our attitude.”

By linking the two together is Putin green-lighting Iran to wage cyber attacks against the U.S.? It is quite possible that is his intent which raises the stakes on 2/3 of the critical cyber risk issues for 2019.

Putin Views Cyber as Modern Day Nuclear Equivalent Threat

Putin is also quick to associate the impact of cyber operations with that of nuclear weapons. He’s not the first Russian leader to do so as 20 years ago Yeltsin stated that ““While maintaining our nuclear potential at the proper level, we need to devote more attention to developing the entire range of means of information warfare.”

This association speaks to the power Russia associates with cyber capabilities and given the Cold War arms race around nuclear weapons, it is safe to assume Russia is allocating significant resources towards developing cyber operations tools and multi-platform strategies for their use.

There are no Moscow Rules for Cyber

The infamous CIA Moscow Rules informally guided intelligence personnel in how to stay safe in the streets of espionage during the height of the Cold War. While Bob Gourley has proposed a Cyber version of the Moscow Rules, it is clear that cyber operations are still an emerging issue as countries push the boundaries of acceptable behavior, standards for attribution, and understanding the impact calculus of successful attacks. Whether Putin genuinely wants to establish norms for cyber behavior, he is clearly articulating that cyber attacks are a perfectly valid “reaction” in the international geopolitical arena.

Putin’s Cyber OODA Loop is Tighter Than Yours

On the action to reaction spectrum, Putin is clearly winning the cyber war and operating with a tighter cyber OODA Loop. Given the lack of norms, Putin is willing to explore the full spectrum of information warfare including using common technology platforms to run influence operations. Putin’s statements on cyber norms comes in the same week that former Director of National Intelligence ceded the U.S. 2016 presidential election to him by claiming that Russian cyber operations changed the outcome of the election in stating that “Of course, the Russian effort affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win.” If true, modest cyber attacks have successfully enabled the first “Trust War” and are undermining the foundation of democratic societies.

In the traditional OODA Loop domain of fighter pilot dogfights, Boyd was infamous for being able to out-OODA his opponents within 40 seconds and Putin is demonstrating a cyber agility that should concern even the most skeptical national security experts.

Matt Devost

Matt Devost

Matthew G. Devost is a technologist, entrepreneur, and international security expert specializing in counterterrorism, critical infrastructure protection, intelligence, risk management and cyber-security issues. Matt co-founded the cyber security consultancy FusionX from 2010-2017. Matt was President & CEO of the Terrorism Research Center/Total Intel from 1996-2009. For a full bio, please see www.devost.net