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White House renews concerns about Russian cyberattacks based on ‘evolving intelligence’

President Joe Biden on Monday warned that “evolving intelligence” suggests Russia is “exploring options for potential cyberattacks” in retaliation for the economic punishments the U.S. and other countries have inflicted on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

“If you have not already done so, I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately by implementing the best practices we have developed together over the last year,” Biden said in a statement

“You have the power, the capacity, and the responsibility to strengthen the cybersecurity and resilience of the critical services and technologies on which Americans rely,” he added. “We need everyone to do their part to meet one of the defining threats of our time — your vigilance and urgency today can prevent or mitigate attacks tomorrow.”

The fresh warning comes as Russia’s now weeks-old invasion of Ukraine grinds to a stalemate and the sanctions and other economic penalties imposed by Washington and its allies take a bite out of the Russian economy.

Intelligence leaders and congressional lawmakers have noted the Kremlin has yet to unleash the full potential of its digital capabilities against its former Soviet satellite state while worrying such hacks could bleed out of the conflict or be launched specifically against U.S. targets.

The warning is also the latest example of the U.S. clandestine community sharing key information with the public to preempt potential future moves by Moscow — many of which have proven to be correct.

White House deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger said Russia is “exploring options for potential cyberattacks on critical infrastructure” in the U.S.

“To be clear, there is no certainty there will be a cyber incident on critical infrastructure,” she noted during a White House press briefing. 

Neuberger said that last week federal agencies convened more than 100 firms to share the new digital threat and provided them with additional information about the resources and tools the government can provide.

“There was some preparatory activity that we’re seeing and that is what we shared in a classified context with companies who we thought might be affected,” according to Neuberger, who declined to say which critical industry sectors might be targeted.

She noted such activity — which can include scanning websites and snooping for vulnerabilities — can “pan out to become an incident, it cannot.”

“Bottom line: this is about us. The work we need to do to lock our digital doors and to put the country in the best defensive position,” Neuberger said, calling on the private sector to do more to boost resiliency and secure networks.

While Neuberger said there is no evidence of an imminent cyberattack on U.S. targets right now, Russia continues to carry out malicious digital activities against Ukraine.

“We do continue to see Russia conducting both … significant malicious activity in Ukraine, major kinetic attacks, which have disrupted and killed lives, as well as cyber activity,” she told reporters.

Martin Matishak

Martin 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.

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