Countervalue deterrence for cyberspace?
The New York Times says, in a largely anonymously sourced piece, that the US has staged implants in the Russian electrical grid to enable the US to impose costs on widely expected Russian misbehavior during the 2020 elections. This would be battlespace preparation as opposed to an attack (the article is clearer on this point than is its headline). The reported operation would appear to be a deterrent move intended to dissuade Russia from cyberattacks and influence operations against the US.
Precedent for active cyber operations may be seen in US response to Russian election influence operations in 2018. (See Lawfare's useful summary of presumed Cyber Command action against the troll-farming Internet Research Agency, which President Trump more-or-less confirmed in a Fox interview.) Others see similarities to the allegedly planned but apparently never executed NitroZeus operation designed for use against Iran.
The report of US activity in Russia's grid comes shortly after Dragos reported signs that Xenotime, the "activity group" responsible for the Trisis (also called "Triton") malware used against petrochemical facilities in the Middle East, had been seen probing the North American power grid. This activity appeared to be reconnaissance. FireEye, which discussed renewed Triton activity in April, has attributed the campaign to the Russian government, specifically to the Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics.
If the New York Times has its story right, the operation it reports would seem to be deterrence. For deterrence to work, the threatened retaliation must be credible, and the adversary must know about it. If that's the point of discussions on background with the New York Times, then mission accomplished. There's another similarity with classic Cold War nuclear deterrence: the strategy seems to represent a predominantly countervalue approach. Countervalue deterrence holds something at risk the adversary values, but which need have no direct military significance. Counterforce strategies hold military targets at risk. The deterrence of mutual assured destruction during the Cold War, which held cities at risk, was an example of countervalue strategy. An attack on electrical power distribution is likely to harm civilian targets at least as much as it does military ones, which raises issues of discrimination and proportionality.