Citing four anonymous insiders, NBC News reports that President Biden has been presented with a 'menu' of options for the US to carry out 'massive cyberattacks' aimed at crippling Russia's ability to sustain its military operations in Ukraine.
"You could do everything from slow the trains down to have them fall off the tracks," said one person briefed on the matter.
Two U.S. intelligence officials, one Western intelligence official and another person briefed on the matter say no final decisions have been made, but they say U.S. intelligence and military cyber warriors are proposing the use of American cyber weapons on a scale never before contemplated. Among the options: Disrupting internet connectivity across Russia, shutting off electric power, and tampering with railroad switches to hamper Russia’s ability to re-supply its forces, three of the sources said.
Whether that's actually possible remains to be seen - as Russia has made headlines in the past for their ability to disconnect themselves from the worldwide internet.
That said... (and there's no indication the US is behind this)
According to the sources, the options presented include preemptive responses whether or not Russia launches its own cyber attacks on the US to retaliate against sanctions.
The goal wouldn't be to destroy - rather disrupt Russia's systems, and therefore 'fall short of an act of war.' The idea would be to harm 'networks,' not people.
The anonymous sources noted that officials are "debating the legal authorities under which the attacks would take place," and whether they would be covert action or clandestine military activity.
Last June, Biden and the leaders of 30 countries that now make up NATO agreed that "the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack," with Biden calling NATO's Article 5 - or its mutual self-defense clause, "a sacred obligation" that is "rock solid and unshakable."
In short, cyberattacks on NATO members by Russia (or other nations) could be considered an act of war, so might Russia assume the same about attacks on their systems?
Either way, the anonymous sources told NBC that the US wouldn't publicly acknowledge carrying out the operations - which would be conducted by US Cyber Command, the NSA, the CIA and other agencies.
"Our response will be harsh and measured, but not so severe as to encourage Putin to take more drastic steps," said one US official.
The person briefed on the matter said there was a significant divide within the U.S. government, with one camp fearful of escalating and another urging a strong cyber response.
Any use of cyber weapons to retaliate for the Russian invasion of Ukraine would mark a turning point for U.S. cyber operations, which have largely been focused on intelligence gathering, information operations and targeted strikes, many of them for counterterrorism purposes. The most significant use of American cyber capability is believed to be the Stuxnet attack on the Iranian nuclear program from 2007 to 2010, which used computer malware to cause massive physical damage. -NBC
"Cyber weapons are going to be used in a way we haven’t used other weapons," said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It gives us options we didn't have before."
Of course, "Anything we can do to them, they can do to us," said one anon official, who says that decisionmakers anticipate that Russia will retaliate - 'likely with Colonial Pipeline-style attacks that seek to hurt American consumers.'