Biden warns US companies to bolster their cyber defenses in preparation for Russian attacks

In brief: President Joe Biden is warning US business leaders to immediately strengthen their companies’ cyber defences in preparation for possible attacks from Russia in retaliation against sanctions that are crippling the country’s economy.

Biden wrote in a White House statement that “based on evolving intelligence,” his administration is reiterating previous warnings that Russia could conduct malicious cyberattacks against the United States.

“My Administration will continue to use every tool to deter, disrupt, and if necessary, respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure. But the Federal Government can’t defend against this threat alone,” Biden wrote. “I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately.”

Biden repeated the warnings at the Business Roundtable Quarterly Meeting in Washington. “The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential and it’s coming,” he said. “The point is that he (Vladimir Putin) has the capability. He hasn’t used it yet, but it’s part of his playbook.”

The government has issued a guidance fact sheet for US organizations that should help mitigate against Russian cyberattacks. Some of the recommendations include implementing multi-factor authorization for systems, keeping up to date with the latest patches, running emergency exercises, and forming relationships with local FBI or CISA offices before any cyber incidents.

The Biden administration has been dealing with cyberattacks from Russia long before the Ukraine invasion. POTUS told Putin last July to act on ransomware groups operating in the county, even suggesting that the United States is prepared to respond if cyberthreats weren’t stopped. He later warned that such incidents could lead to a “real shooting war.” But a US official says the threat has “taken on additional significance in the eyes of the government” since Russia invaded its neighbor.

The US government is currently investigating a cyberattack on US telecommunications provider Viasat that took place on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, which it believes was a state-sponsored attack. The incident resulted in satellite modems that provide internet service for thousands of European customers, including many in Ukraine, being taken offline.

In other Russia news, a court in Moscow has found Facebook and Instagram guilty of “extremist activity” after they temporarily allowed users in some countries to post threats of violence against Russian soldiers. WhatsApp, however, will remain unblocked.

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