Citing “evolving intelligence,” President Joe Biden has urged U.S. businesses to prepare for possible Russian cyberattacks and outlined security actions organizations should take immediately.
“I have previously warned about the potential that Russia could conduct malicious cyber activity against the United States, including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs we’ve imposed on Russia alongside our allies and partners. It’s part of Russia’s playbook,” Biden said in a March 21 statement. “Today, my administration is reiterating those warnings based on evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks.”
Biden said his administration will continue doing everything it can to help protect U.S. assets from such cyberattacks. However, he noted the federal government “can’t defend against this threat alone” because most of the country’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector.
“If you have not already done so, I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately,” Biden said. “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. 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.”
A Call to Arms
Alongside Biden’s statement, the White House issued a fact sheet advising companies to execute the following steps with urgency:
- Mandate the use of multi-factor authentication on your systems to make it harder for attackers to get onto your system;
- Deploy modern security tools on your computers and devices to continuously look for and mitigate threats;
- Check with your cybersecurity professionals to make sure that your systems are patched and protected against all known vulnerabilities, and change passwords across your networks so that previously stolen credentials are useless to malicious actors;
- Back up your data and ensure you have offline backups beyond the reach of malicious actors;
- Run exercises and drill your emergency plans so that you are prepared to respond quickly to minimize the impact of any attack;
- Encrypt your data so it cannot be used if it is stolen;
- Educate your employees to common tactics that attackers will use over email or through websites, and encourage them to report if their computers or phones have shown unusual behavior, such as unusual crashes or operating very slowly; and
- Engage proactively with your local FBI field office or Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) regional office to establish relationships in advance of any cyber incidents. Please encourage your IT and security leadership to visit the websites of the CISA and the FBI, where they will find technical information and other useful resources.
In a separate statement, CISA Director Jen Easterly said, “We will continue working closely with our federal and industry partners to monitor the threat environment 24/7, and we stand ready to help organizations respond to and recover from cyberattacks.”
Notably, Congress recently passed a law requiring critical infrastructure groups to report cyberattacks to CISA. Easterly urged companies to notify the agency ASAP: “When cyber incidents are reported quickly, it can contribute to stopping further attacks.”
The White House fact sheet said the country also must focus on bolstering America’s cybersecurity over the long term, encouraging technology and software companies to:
- Build security into your products from the ground up—“bake it in, don’t bolt it on”—to protect both your intellectual property and your customers’ privacy.
- Develop software only on a system that is highly secure and accessible only to those actually working on a particular project. This will make it much harder for an intruder to jump from system to system and compromise a product or steal your intellectual property.
- Use modern tools to check for known and potential vulnerabilities. Developers can fix most software vulnerabilities—if they know about them. There are automated tools that can review code and find most coding errors before software ships, and before a malicious actor takes advantage of them.
- Software developers are responsible for all code used in their products, including open source code. Most software is built using many different components and libraries, much of which is open source. Make sure developers know the provenance (i.e., origin) of components they are using and have a “software bill of materials” in case one of those components is later found to have a vulnerability so you can rapidly correct it.
- Implement the security practices mandated in the President’s Executive Order, Improving our Nation’s Cybersecurity. Pursuant to that EO, all software the U.S. government purchases is now required to meet security standards in how it is built and deployed. The White House encourages following those practices more broadly.