It’s been a month since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops but the threat of cyberattacks against U.S. businesses due to the unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia continues to increase cybersecurity threats.

Now American businesses and critical infrastructure may be in Russia’s digital crosshairs.

A Warning from the White House

Just two days ago on Monday, March 21, the White House issued a statement from President Biden regarding our nation’s cybersecurity. Since being sworn into office, President Biden and his administration have been diligently working to improve cybersecurity for both the federal government as well as the private sector.

“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,” said President Biden in the statement. “It’s part of Russia’s playbook. Today, my administration is reiterating those warnings based on evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks.”

Infrastructure Fears

There have been many instances of nation-state-sponsored hackers attacking American businesses online. One of the most recent and notable was the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline Company in May 2021. The company was attacked by a group known as DarkSide, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which said the organization was located in Eastern Europe or Russia at the time.

The attack disrupted the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel from Houston to states along the East Coast as the company was forced to shut down its pipeline for a week. As a result of the shutdown, some retailers began running out of fuel, creating panic buying of gasoline in several states. After paying nearly $5 million in ransom to the hackers, the FBI was able to recoup some of the company’s funds, but not all of it.

Since last May, the number of cyberattacks against American businesses has continued to increase, raising fears about future attacks. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the stakes are only getting higher.

The President’s Plea

In the last few weeks, the American government upped the ante by imposing stiff economic sanctions against Russia and U.S. intelligence now reports Russia has been conducting “preparatory activity” for cyberattacks including the scanning of websites belonging to U.S. government agencies and businesses. There is also evidence the Russians have been searching for software vulnerabilities to exploit as well.

“The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential and it’s coming,” President Biden said at a Business Roundtable Quarterly Meeting in Washington reported on by CNN. “One of the tools (Putin’s) most likely to use, in my view - in our view- is cyberattacks.”

As a direct result of the increasing threat environment, President Biden issued a request to all American business owners, despite their size or industry.

“Most of America’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector and critical infrastructure owners and operators must accelerate efforts to lock their digital doors,” said President Biden. “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. 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.”

Protecting Against Cyberattacks

The same day the White House issued the president’s statement, the White House also issued a fact sheet about protecting against cyberattacks. The President has also directed government departments and agencies to use all existing government authority to mandate new cybersecurity and network defense measures everywhere possible.

Since November 2021 when Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his aggressive behavior prior to the invasion of Ukraine, the Biden Administration has held extensive briefings and issued multiple advisories to American businesses regarding cyber threats and improving cyber defenses.

One such move has been to encourage the private sector to use resources and tools provided by the government including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Shields Up campaign. The campaign offers up the latest information for business owners regarding threat intelligence, guidance for implementing cybersecurity best practices, and other resources.

Additionally, White House officials sent more than 100 American companies classified briefings last week urging them to improve their defenses against potential breaches immediately. While the statements did not mention specific industries, it is believed the financial sector, healthcare, and critical infrastructure such as water treatment, electrical companies, and fuel pipelines may be obvious targets based on previous attacks.

“I think the president was very clear,” said Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger on Monday afternoon. “We’re not looking for a conflict with Russia. But if Russia initiates a cyberattack against the United States, we will respond.”

Improving Business Cybersecurity

There are several steps every business can take to improve its cybersecurity immediately, per the president’s request. Start with implementing cybersecurity best practices such as encrypting all data, using multifactor authentication whenever possible, and backing up all data.

Business leaders are also encouraged to contact an independent cybersecurity firm such as ORAM Corporate Advisors for a cybersecurity audit to identify shortfalls in a business’s cybersecurity. This will allow gaps to be fixed immediately to best protect the organization from potential attacks. It’s no longer a matter of “if” an attack will occur, but “when.” Furthermore, all businesses are encouraged to back up all data and have a cybersecurity plan in place should an attack occur so it can rebound quickly and efficiently.

For assistance with conducting a cybersecurity audit, improving the cybersecurity of your business, or building a strong cybersecurity plan, contact ORAM Corporate Advisors now at (617) 933-5060. The call and initial consultation are free and there’s no obligation.