WASHINGTON — A new examination of how Russia used its cybercapabilities in the first months of the war in Ukraine contains a number of surprises: Moscow conducted more cyberattacks than was realized at the time to bolster its invasion, but more than two-thirds of them failed, echoing its poor performance on the physical battlefield.
However, the study, published by Microsoft on Wednesday, suggested that the government of President Vladimir V. Putin was succeeding more than many expected with its disinformation campaign to establish a narrative of the war favorable to Russia, including making the case that the United States was secretly producing biological weapons inside Ukraine.
The report is the latest effort by many groups, including American intelligence agencies, to understand the interaction of a brutal physical war with a parallel — and often coordinated — struggle in cyberspace. It indicated that Ukraine was well prepared to fend off cyberattacks, after having endured them for many years. That was at least in part because of a well-established system of warnings from private-sector companies, including Microsoft and Google, and preparations that included moving much of Ukraine’s most important systems to the cloud, onto servers outside Ukraine.
The account of Russia’s cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns showed that only 29 percent of the attacks breached the targeted networks — in Ukraine, the United States, Poland and the Baltic nations. But it points to a more successful effort underway to dominate the information war, in which Russia has blamed Washington and Kyiv for starting the conflict that is now raging in Ukraine’s east and south.
The war is the first full-scale battle in which traditional and cyberweapons have been used side by side, and the race is on to explore the never-before-seen dynamic between the two. So far, very little of that dynamic has developed as expected.