Biden warns private sector of potential Russian cyberattacks

President Biden warned on Monday that Russia was exploring the possibility of carrying out potential cyberattacks against the United States in retaliation for economic sanctions imposed on Moscow for invading Ukraine.

In a statement released days before he traveled to Brussels for a NATO summit, Mr Biden encouraged private sector companies in the United States to strengthen their cybersecurity against possible breach by Russia.

“It’s part of Russia’s playbook,” Biden said in the statement. “Today, my administration reiterates these intelligence-based warnings that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks.”

The administration has no evidence of a specific and credible potential cyberattack against the United States, but rather “preparatory activity” targeting critical infrastructure, according to Anne Neuberger, Mr. Biden’s deputy national security adviser for the cyber and emerging technologies.

This is not the first time the United States has warned that Russia could hack American companies as war rages in Ukraine. Neuberger said Monday’s warning was an attempt by the Biden administration to raise awareness of Russia’s ability to carry out a digital attack on US infrastructure.

Ms. Neuberger said the administration recently observed “preparatory activity” for a potential hack of US infrastructure and shared that information with companies during a classified briefing last week. Such activity may include scanning websites for vulnerabilities. Ms. Neuberger made it clear that there was still an active threat of Russian hacking against critical infrastructure, including oil and energy companies and hospital systems.

“There’s so much more we need to do to make sure we’ve locked our digital doors, especially for the critical services that Americans rely on,” Ms. Neuberger said, noting that most of America’s critical infrastructure is managed by the private sector. “These owners and operators have the ability and responsibility to strengthen the systems and networks we all rely on.”

The White House briefed more than 100 businesses across the United States last week on the best ways to defend against a cyberattack. The administration on Monday told companies to “immediately bolster your cyber defenses,” recommending measures such as enabling multi-factor authentication, ensuring offline backups of data and training employees in hacking methods.

“You have the power, ability and responsibility to strengthen the cybersecurity and resilience of critical services and technologies that Americans rely on,” Biden said in the statement.

Ms. Neuberger noted that Russia is still carrying out cyber activities against Ukraine. Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said in mid-February that a cyberattack this month against the websites of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and the military, as well as the interfaces of the two largest banks in the country, “carried traces of foreign intelligence services”.

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