Russian government hackers carried out multiple cyber operations against Ukraine that seemed to support Moscow's military attacks and online propaganda campaigns, Microsoft said in a report on Wednesday.
The reported intrusions - some of which have not been previously disclosed - indicate that hacking has played a bigger role in the conflict than what has been publicly known.
The digital onslaught, which Microsoft said began one year prior to Russia's February 24 invasion, may have laid the groundwork for different military missions in the war-torn territory, researchers found.
Between February 23 and April 8, Microsoft said there were 37 Russian cyberattacks inside Ukraine.
The findings show how modern warfare can combine digital and kinetic strikes.
Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said Russian generals and spies had tried to make cyberattacks part of their war effort while they struggled on the battlefield.
Microsoft said Russia's military and hacking operations worked together against a shared target set. The tech company said it couldn't determine whether this correlation was caused by coordinated decision-making or simply because of shared goals.
On March 1, a timeline published by Microsoft showed that a Russian missile was fired at Kyiv's TV tower, media companies in the capital were hit by destructive hacks and cyber-espionage.
In another case, the cybersecurity research team found Russian actors lurking on Ukrainian critical infrastructure in the northeast city of Sumy, two weeks before widespread electricity shortages were reported in the area on March 3.
The next day, Microsoft said Russian hackers broke into a government network in the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia. Two days later, missiles leveled the city's airport.
Victor Zhora, a top Ukrainian cybersecurity official, said on Wednesday that he continues to see Russian cyberattacks on local telecom companies and energy grid operators.
"I believe that they can organize more attacks on these sectors," Zhora told reporters. We shouldn't underestimate Russian hackers, but we should not overestimate their potential. He thanked Microsoft, the U.S. government, and multiple European allies for their cybersecurity support.
Academics and analysts have stated that Russia appeared to be less active in the cyber domain against Ukraine since the start of the war. The Microsoft report reveals a flurry of malicious activity, although its impact has been unclear or not immediately evident.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. government publicly exposed a cyberweapon, known as Pipedream, designed to damage industrial control systems. The tool is viewed as highly dangerous and coincides with the Ukraine conflict, because it hasn't been attributed to Russia.