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Former U.S. security officials including Richard Clarke issued warnings that Russia may use cyber warfare tactics against the in retaliation for sanctions levied in response to their aggressions against Ukraine.

“If we move to the heavy sanctions, the sectoral sanctions… the Russians are going to strike back in some way,” said Clarke. “[Russians] can’t strike back… [with] economic sanctions that would have the same kind of effect. What they can do… is a cyberattack to get back at us … attacking our financial institutions in ways that we’ll never be able to prove it was them but we’ll suffer the pain.”

Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense, said the U.S. should coordinate efforts with Ukraine in preparation for defending against the potential for Russia to launch a series of cyber attacks aimed at critical systems.

“We’ve seen [Russia] use [cyber warfare] in Georgia. We’ve seen some elements of that being used in Crimea. If [Russia] has an attack plan, a cyber element is very much a part of that attack plan. It takes down communications, takes down missile systems, takes down the counter attack,” Panetta said.

“The sophistication of what’s being developed today has the ability to create a lot of hell,” Panetta said. “[Our] adversaries are looking at computer systems that run our electrical grid… chemical systems… water systems… transportation systems… financial systems,” Panetta continued.

The comments by Clarke and Panetta were made during a discussion on cybersecurity at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California this week.

“It is my observation that current state sponsored cyber attacks usually tend to change the code, but preserve its basic functions. It is very expensive and time consuming to write new malware when engaging in Cyberspace Operations,” noted Paul de Souza, CSFI Founder President (Cyber Warfare Division) in an email.

“Advanced attacks such as Dark Seoul, Red October, Mask, etc…were all reused with enough modifications to evade traditional detection. Predictive code mutation cyber Intelligence capabilities is the name of the game now.”

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