“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” – Unknown
“A prudent person sees evil and hides himself; But the naive proceed, and pay the penalty.” -Proverbs 27:12
The purpose of this article is to help those seeking wisdom and understanding to begin thinking of plans and preparations for the months and years ahead. The recommendations given are not exacting which means they are largely dependent on your location, environment, family size, previous training, skills, judgment, and resources available. As the world lunges ahead into an uncertain future, many hope for a future where the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is put back in his box by crippling economic sanctions and our personal lives return back to business as usual. Unfortunately, hope is not a plan.
If you prefer video format or want to get right to our tips for surviving cyber warfare, check out our YouTube video below:
The Threat & Rise of the Soviet Union 2.0
As I write this, the world remains in disbelief at the ongoing full-scale Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Such brazen aggression is sadly reminiscent of Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Although some historians may disagree, I argue that history does not repeat but it does rhyme as evident by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The thread of continuity between Poland 1939 and Ukraine 2022 is the inherent unpredictability of the relevant dictator (Hitler and Putin). However, the environment of 1939 did not have as many domains of warfare (e.g., cyber, space). First-world countries like the U.S. in 2022 are heavily reliant on our cyber and telecommunication infrastructures for power, water, banking, communication, and transportation of goods and services. To add complexity, world economies are deeply connected to this cyber and telecommunication infrastructure. Our adversaries (e.g., Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) know all this and watch the news cycle.
For broad context on the indicators and warnings below, several background factors should be kept in mind. Russian conventional strategy (i.e., escalate to deescalate) was developed by Vladimir Putin to justify the use of strategic conventional weapons and – if needed – tactical nuclear weapons in war. There is already significant risk for escalation to another world war due to factors such as fog of war and mistaken identity in the current battlespace with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries bordering Ukraine. These factors alone can inadvertently trigger NATO Article V (i.e., an attack against one NATO country is an attack against all). A NATO Article V declaration against Russia basically means world war. The Russian economy and many European countries are heavily dependent on Russian oil and natural gas exports and is probably why Putin made a deal with China on a large gas pipeline deal during the 2022 Winter Olympics (i.e., Putin was preparing for the inevitable economic sanctions that would come with an invasion of Ukraine). The Kremlin (i.e., Putin) views the NATO as an existential threat to Russian sovereignty and wants to fracture the NATO alliance. Weakening the NATO alliance can occur through capturing and controlling large swaths of Ukrainian gas infrastructure which supplies critical energy to several NATO countries. Russia and China are considered highly capable cyber threats and may select to cooperate unofficially with Iran and North Korea to wage crippling cyber-attacks against various Western (e.g., U.S. and NATO) targets. If such cyberattacks were attributable and directly led to loss of lives, then Article V would be invoked. Alternatively, there are a variety of Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic (DIME) levers and other factors that can serve as off ramps to world war if employed with wisdom. There are also the unknown factors surrounding Putin’s health and lack of succession plans after Putin’s death. Many astute observers have detected a sharp and recent change in Putin’s speech patterns – if that change is due to some kind of health decline, the risk obviously increases for miscalculation and world war. If Putin has become unstable while still in control of the Russian nuclear arsenal, then the world is in great peril. Even if Putin dies in the near term, a world crisis involving Russian nuclear weapon proliferation can quickly erupt without a clear Russian succession plan.
Several potential indicators and warnings are unfolding in the news cycle:
- Ukrainians are putting up more resistance than Putin probably anticipated while some of the Russian invasion forces are mired in logistical problems (e.g., poor sustainment planning leading to Russian invasion convoys running out of fuel). Comment: This is significant because Putin is reportedly becoming more enraged and unstable by his lack of progress and has already selected to go scorched earth (i.e., employ his escalate to deescalate strategy) on Ukrainian targets using his conventional strategic weapons such as ‘vacuum bombs‘.
- For the first time ever, the NATO Response Force (NRF) was activated with an estimated 40,000 troops. Comment: From the standpoint of the adversary (Putin), the activation of the NRF along with crippling economic sanctions (e.g., removal from the SWIFT banking system) is likely viewed as an escalation by U.S. and NATO. At this moment, the Russian economy is in ruins with the Russian Ruble worth about one U.S. cent. Putin’s rhetoric and actions indicate that he is planning to use his ‘escalate to deescalate’ strategy in some form as evident by putting his nuclear forces into special combat readiness. Another form this strategy may take –as Putin may have indirectly threatened – is launching a series of nonattributable cyber-attacks against U.S. and NATO energy infrastructure and banking systems.
- Putin already identified potential future invasion targets in his recent speech justifying the invasion of Ukraine and marking the rebirth of the communist Soviet Union (e.g., Former Soviet satellite states such as Poland and the Baltic countries).
- The NRF activation may serve as Putin’s future justification to reposition Russian Ground Forces along the Western borders of Russia and Belarus under the pretext to protect the Russian Exclave of Kaliningrad from NATO aggression. Comment: There are also unconfirmed reports that Finland and Sweden want immediate admission into NATO given the invasion of Ukraine. NATO expansion will be viewed as an existential threat to Russian sovereignty and would be another pretext for Russia to counter with its own escalation.
- Several NATO countries invoked NATO Article IV discussions. Comment: Discussions are partially due to the burgeoning humanitarian crisis from millions of Ukrainian refugees entering NATO countries. There is a real possibility that Russian maligned actors and saboteurs will attempt to infiltrate NATO countries using the refugee flow as cover.
- Due to a host of factors, the U.S. is currently experiencing an economic downturn with record inflation and gas prices. Comment: Hybrid war includes economic warfare against a vulnerable target country’s economy such as the U.S. Such economic warfare may come from more than one adversary (e.g., the Chinese Communist Party).
- Belarus is setting the information space to justify joining Russian Ground Forces in the military offensive against Ukraine and stationing Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus. Comment: Permanent stationing of Russian Ground Forces with nuclear weapons in Belarus indicates Putin’s intent to engage in his ‘escalate to deescalate’ strategy. These repositioned Russian Ground Forces would then be used to threaten follow on invasions into NATO territory. These invasions would likely follow Putin’s pre-invasion model of Ukraine.
Given the threat described and the increased probability that Putin will select a ‘escalate to deescalate’ strategy against U.S. and NATO, we can expect a series of cyberattacks before the end of 2022. We will likely see a deepening strategic alliance between Russia, China, and Iran given the West has effectively isolated and canceled Russia over Putin’s Ukraine invasion. If NATO Article V is invoked against Russia, then we can expect a limited nuclear war. Nuclear war and the subsequent nuclear winter is the worst-case scenario and is possible given the threat.
What Happened to the Power, Water, & Cash?
Any society can be brought to its knees by interrupting its power, water, and banking system fidelity especially in the cold of winter or heat of summer. Maligned cyber actors have a variety of known tools to attack U.S. and European telecommunications and power infrastructure systems such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and wiper attacks recently seen in Ukraine. Kremlin backed ransomware attacks are clear centerpieces in any subsequent cyberattacks against U.S. or NATO. Many security experts speculate that the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline last year was a Russian dry run / response test. Russian intelligence agencies are well known for co-opting criminal cyber groups / private Russian citizens to maintain plausible deniability and non-attribution for the Kremlin (i.e., Kremlin deception is the likely modus operandi for publishing arrests of Russian cyber criminals of the Colonial Pipeline attack).
Maligned cyber actors such as Russia have been surveilling for vulnerabilities in the U.S. energy grid for years. Some reports characterize the level of vulnerability to the aging electrical grid as the U.S. living in a glass house. Essentially, U.S. vulnerability from a cyberattack is high due to our energy grid’s dependence on Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems of software and hardware. A good example of computer worm attacking a SCADA system is the now open sourced Stuxnet virus – and, yes, any maligned actor in the world had around a decade to study and upgrade the Stuxnet source code since anyone can access it on the Internet. Stuxnet ended up destroying several Iranian centrifuges by subtly changing speeds of the centrifuge spin. On March 15, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert that the Russian government had engineered a series of cyberattacks targeting American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems. This Wall Street Journal article goes into detail on the methods used by Russian hackers to surveil and exploit vulnerabilities in the U.S. electrical grid back in 2017.
As a general rule, the more a system is automated and dependent on connectivity to computers (e.g., the Internet of Things [IoT]) the more it is vulnerable to a cyberattack. Effective and wide-ranging cyberattacks on the U.S. can trigger dire second and third order effects. Such cyberattacks can trigger several weeks of disruption to banking services, telecommunication, power, and water for large portions of the U.S. Those citizens that are unprepared will panic within a week after the attacks. Other effects stemming from the cyberattacks are civil unrest, food riots, famine, and an increase in criminality. The impact on the value of the U.S. Dollar and economy must also be taken into consideration so expect severe economic instability. Understand that regional supermarket distribution warehouses may stock up to 72 hours of foodstuff for distribution to local supermarkets. Once those foodstuffs are depleted, real panic for those unprepared will set in. Preparing for a cyberattacks’ impacts on utilities (gas, water, and electric) is similar to preparing for a long duration storm.
Rules of Thumb (Preparation)
- Prepare your home for a cyberattack. It may sound simple but look to improving your cybersecurity posture. Create strong passwords, have updated anti-virus software, and avoiding overuse of IoT devices (like Bluetooth-enabled devices, Alexa devices or Google equivalent, etc.).
- Stockpile at least 1 month supply of food, water, and required medications to last each member of the family. Dried food with a long shelf life is best. Based on your budget and resources, 3 to 6 months is ideal. For a higher level of self-sufficiency, have a stock of heirloom seeds to grow your own food – True Leaf Market is a great source. For water, remember that your home water tank has roughly 30 gallons of water. Have at least two means of purifying the water you do have available such as Berkey or LifeStraw.
- Have a secondary means for maintaining safe temperatures within your dwelling if your utilities go down. If you are reliant on utilities, consider purchasing a home generator or a wood burning stove especially for winter. 2-3 cords of hardwood kept in a dry location should last 3 to 4 months for a wood stove.
- A home well stocked with food and water is only a free store for criminals absent any defenses. Consider purchasing a handgun and/or 12-gauge shotgun for home defense. Ensure you receive training on safe use, storage, and handling of your firearm/s.
- Make friends with trusted neighbors now. Build a community and coalition of those willing to ride out the storm. Building a local community base of support is critical to mental resilience especially during hard times. Community is an important layer of security for your homestead and cross leveling important skills, tools, shelter as needed.
- Stockpile barter items. Bartering will be important in your community if banking systems are unavailable. Typical barter items might include car batteries, cigarettes, alcohol, ammunition, cash, gold, silver, extra food, and water purifying systems such as LifeStraws. Learn other exotic methods of exchanging goods and services such as Hawala. Such ancient financial networks are useful to local communities with no banking support.
- Get survival and emergency medical training for each capable member of the family. It is important that routine cross training among family and community members occur with these skills.
- Communication is always value added: If budget and time allows, consider purchasing a Ham or Shortwave Radio system.
- Make your preparations as nondescript as possible. You do not want to draw unwanted attention to yourself or your family when panic has set in after any attacks. If you must travel or go anywhere for essential supplies – become the Gray Man. I recommend Gray Man Concepts for more information. For example, the Gray Man will appear to be homeless in a crowd of desperate food rioters, or the Gray Man will speak like the rioters to avoid conflict or robbery. Displaying flashy jewelry and expensive items like wristwatches will make you a target.
- Stock up on paper maps and learn to read them.
- Medical supplies such as masks, bandages, and pain medications should be on hand. Consider purchasing a 1-month supply of potassium iodide tablets. In the event of nuclear war and subsequent fallout, you will need to protect your most vulnerable organ in that event -the thyroid -from exposure to radioactive beta particles during periods of nuclear fallout. The good news – nuclear war is survivable. Check out the Ready.gov website for further information about how to survive a nuclear blast.
“But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but are you unable to discern the signs of the times?”-Matthew 16:2-3
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