How CEOs received Biden’s ‘very clear message’ on a looming Russian cyberattack
After weeks of relative silence on the issue, President Joe Biden issued a stark warning to CEOs Monday: Moscow is exploring cyberattacks, they could come soon, and businesses need to do more to prepare.
“The president delivered a very clear message, which is, every company needs to be hardening its cyber defenses,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told Yahoo Finance. “And I think it was well-received in part because we've been working with the private sector for months now.”
The Biden administration has long emphasized business cybersecurity, spurred by incidents like a May cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, which temporarily cut off nearly 50% of the fuel capacity for the East Coast, and an attack against Meatpacker JBS from June, which threatened the food supply chain.
The U.S. linked both those attacks to Russian-based groups, and fears of cyberwar from Russia itself have flared up since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Biden's day with CEOs included a private meeting at the White House, a public briefing with reporters, and an evening speech from Biden to assembled CEOs that backs up those fears.
“Based on evolving intelligence, Russia may be planning a cyberattack against us,” Biden said, noting that Russia's capability is “fairly consequential, and it’s coming.”
Prior to that invasion, the administration took actions like a letter to CEOs warning of cyberattacks during the holiday season and a meeting last August of business leaders to drill the message home.
‘The national interest is at stake’
Contrary to some early expectations, the Russian government has yet to hit the U.S. with any major cyberattacks since the sanctions began. It’s been a different story in Ukraine, where cyberattacks — apparently from Russia — have largely gone hand in hand with conventional warfare.
But the situation could change quickly. “It’s not just your interests that are at stake,” Biden told the CEOs during his public speech. “The national interest is at stake and I would respectfully suggest it’s a patriotic obligation for you to invest as much as you can” to build up cyber defenses.
The White House is urging a range of measures from banks turning on multi-factor authentication by default to running exercises and drills about what to do in case of an attempted breach.
Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber Anne Neuberger told reporters Monday there is evidence of “preparatory activity” on the part of those who might be planning an attack. “That preparatory activity can pan out to become an incident,” she said, adding that the possibility is “the reason we’re here.”
At the end of the day, Deese notes, the private sector is responsible for filling holes in cybersecurity — and they are already stepping up. “The exchange was very frank and very pragmatic,” he said of the meetings this week, with everyone operating “on a state of high alert.”
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.
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