By ALAN SUDERMAN – Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday urged U.S. companies to ensure their digital doors are tightly closed as Russia considers launching cyberattacks against critical infrastructure targets while the war in Ukraine continues.
Addressing company CEOs at their quarterly meeting, Biden told business leaders they have a “patriotic obligation” to protect their systems against such attacks. He said federal assistance is available should they wish, but the decision is solely theirs.
Biden said the government has “issued fresh warnings that Russia may be planning a cyberattack against us due to evolving intelligence.” … The scale of Russia’s cyber capacity is quite momentous, and it’s coming.”
The president said the federal government was “doing its part” to prepare for an attack and warned private sector CEOs that it was also in the national interest to do the same.
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“I would respectfully suggest that it is a patriotic commitment for you to invest as much as you can in technology to counteract cyberattacks,” Biden told Business Roundtable members. “As we said, we are ready to help you with all the tools and our expertise if you are ready. But it is your decision what steps you take and your responsibility to take them, not ours.”
Biden’s top cybersecurity adviser, Anne Neuberger, expressed frustration at a White House news briefing Monday that some critical infrastructure companies have ignored warnings from federal agencies to fix known issues in software that could be exploited by Russian hackers.
“Despite these repeated warnings, we continue to see attackers compromising systems using known vulnerabilities for which patches exist,” said Neuberger, the president’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies. “That makes it a lot easier for attackers than it needs to be.”
The federal government warned US companies about the threats posed by Russian state hackers long before the country’s invasion of Ukraine last month. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has launched a “Shields Up” campaign aimed at helping companies strengthen their defenses and has urged companies to secure their data, enable multi-factor authentication and other steps to improve to do cyber hygiene.
Neuberger said there was no information pointing to a specific Russian cyberattack against US targets, but added that there had been an increase in “preparatory activities,” such as website scanning and vulnerability searches, which was among nation-state common to hackers.
In a written statement early Monday, Biden said Russia could launch a cyberattack on US targets in retaliation for “the unprecedented economic cost we have imposed on Russia through sanctions.”
“It’s part of Russia’s playbook,” Biden said.
The United States and its allies have imposed a series of sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s economy, and Biden recently announced that the US is sending more anti-aircraft, anti-tank weapons and drones to help Ukraine.
John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence analysis at cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said cyberattacks give Russia an opportunity to strike back.
“Cyberattacks are a way for them to determine costs without crossing a big red line,” he said.
Russia is considered a hacking powerhouse, but its offensive cyberattacks since invading Ukraine have remained muted compared to what some have feared. Russia has carried out significant cyberattacks against Ukraine in recent years, including the devastating 2017 NotPetya attack, which spread far and wide and caused more than $10 billion in damage worldwide.
Neuberger said Russian cyberattacks on Ukraine are ongoing, although she didn’t give details. She said the Biden administration has made it clear there will be consequences if Russia cooperates with the US in cyberspace.
“We are not looking for a conflict with Russia. If Russia launches a cyber attack against the United States, we will respond,” she said.
The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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