White House warns of ‘evolving intelligence’ suggesting Russia could carry out cyber attacks on United States

As the Biden administration has been warning the nation for months about the prospect of cyber-attacks by Russia, most recently in response to economic restrictions imposed on Russia in connection with its invasion of Ukraine, the president’s statement suggests that “evolving intelligence” is threat has increased.

The details of what exactly that information is remain unclear, but Deputy National Security Adviser Anne Neuberger said during Monday’s White House briefing that Russia had carried out “preparatory activities” for cyberattacks, including scanning websites and hunting for software vulnerabilities.

Neuberger said the government is reiterating its warnings “based on evolving threat intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in the United States,” but also stressed that “there is no assurance that a cyber incident will occur.” on critical infrastructure.”

The administration last week “hosted classified briefings with companies and industries we thought would be most effective and provided very practical, focused advice,” Neuberger told CNN’s Phil Mattingly at Monday’s briefing.

Biden said in his statement that the administration would “continue to use every means necessary to deter, disrupt and respond as necessary to cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure,” but acknowledged that “the federal government cannot defend itself against this threat alone.”

“Most of America’s critical infrastructure is privately owned and operated, and critical infrastructure owners and operators need to accelerate their efforts to lock down their digital doors.” The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is actively working with critical infrastructure organizations to quickly share information and mitigation guidelines to help protect their systems and networks,” the statement said.

The administration recommends several steps to help private sector partners prevent cyber-attacks, including using multi-factor authentication, consulting with cybersecurity professionals to ensure systems are protected from all known vulnerabilities, changing passwords in networks to prevent the use of stolen credentials, back up and encrypt data, and educate employees on cybersecurity.

US officials have been warning the private sector for months about the possibility of Russian retaliatory hacks over Kremlin sanctions.

The US Departments of Energy, Finance and Homeland Security, among others, have briefed major electric utilities and banks about Russia’s hacking capabilities and have urged companies to lower their thresholds for reporting suspicious activity. The FBI has been wary that Russian-speaking ransomware groups could lash out at US companies.

Ukrainian government agencies have been hit by a series of cyber attacks before and after the Russian invasion, but not at the level of hacking some analysts feared.

Still, cyber-attacks have played a supporting role in the war. When the Russian military launched an attack on Ukraine on February 24, satellite modems that provide internet services to tens of thousands of customers in Europe, including some in Ukraine, were taken offline in a cyber attack on US telecommunications provider Viasat.

The US government is investigating the Viasat hack as a possible Russian state-sponsored cyber attack, a US official familiar with the case previously told CNN.

Neuberger did not identify on Monday who was responsible for the hack. She said US officials are continuing to investigate the incident.

Earlier in March, a bipartisan group of senators also shared concerns with the Biden administration about the potential of widespread Russian cyberattacks in the US in retaliation for harsh sanctions against Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, obtained by CNN Sunday night, 22 senators, led by Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, asked questions about America’s readiness for Russia. cyber and disinformation threats.

Additional correspondence obtained by CNN indicated that DHS responded to the senators on Monday, saying that the CISA’s Office of Legislative Affairs will work with the group to prepare a briefing on the matter.

Eva McKend of CNN contributed to this report.

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