White House double downs on warning about cyberattacks over the holidays
White House deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger on Thursday urged U.S. organizations to be on guard against malicious digital activity ahead of the Labor Day holiday.
“We want to raise awareness and this need for awareness is particularly for critical infrastructure owners and operators who operate critical services for Americans,” Neuberger said during a White House press briefing.
She emphasized that the administration has no specific threat information or insights about possible cyberattacks “but we do have this history.” This year’s three biggest ransomware incidents — on the Colonial Pipeline, meat processing giant JBS and software company Kaseya — all occurred over weekends and major holidays.
“Organizations and individuals should be on alert now because criminals sometimes lay their steps in advance and begin their planning,” Neuberger said.
She added that hackers often target companies over holiday weekends when security operations centers may be understaffed. She encouraged corporate executives to bring together their leadership teams to take steps to mitigate the risk now, including applying software patches, making key personnel change their passwords, switching on multi-factor authentication and reviewing response plans.
The warning came days after the FBI and CISA issued a joint advisory that warned digital actors have “conducted increasingly impactful attacks against U.S. entities on or around holiday weekends over the last several months.”
Neuberger said security teams should proactively hunt across their networks for "signs of compromise or anything unusual on your network." She also warned individuals to be "extra vigilant" about phishing emails.
Asked if the Kremlin had cracked down on ransomware gangs operating inside its borders following the June meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Neuberger answered: “The discussions with the Russians continue. As President Biden noted, he's looking for action, with regard to addressing cyber activity, and we continue to look for that.”
She said the U.S. has “noted the decrease in ransomware” but noted there “could be a host of reasons for it. So we're noting that trend and we hope that that trend continues.”
Neuberger said the U.S. intelligence community is on alert and that agencies like the FBI are “fully postured and fully prepared” for possible incidents over the long weekend “so we could rapidly jump on them and respond to them.”
Martin Matishak is a senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He spent the last five years at Politico, where he covered Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community and was a driving force behind the publication's cybersecurity newsletter.