Biden tells CEOs they have ‘patriotic obligation’ to guard against Russian cyberattacks

President Biden speaks at Business Roundtable's CEO quarterly meeting
Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

President Biden on Monday called on top business executives to build up their companies’ capacity to deal with potential cyberattacks from Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the invasion of Ukraine. 

“It’s not just in your interests that are at stake with the potential use of cybersecurity, it’s in the national interest’s stake, and I would respectfully suggest it’s a patriotic obligation for you to invest as much as you can in making sure — and we will help in any way — that you have built up your technologic capacity to deal with cyberattacks,” Biden said at the Business Roundtable’s quarterly meeting on Monday evening. 

Biden said that investing in technology to fight back against such an attack would protect companies, keep up providing critical services and help secure Americans’ privacy.

He said that cyberattacks are one of the tools Putin is “most likely to use.” The White House on Monday urged private companies to bolster their cyber defenses, citing evolving intelligence suggesting the Russian government is exploring potential cyberattacks. 

“He has a capability, he hasn’t used it yet, but it’s part of his playbook,” Biden said in his remarks to the Business Roundtable.

The president suggested, for example, that banks could help by turning on additional cybersecurity measures for every customer by default.

“It’s your decision as to the steps you’ll take and your responsibility to take them, not ours,” he said.

The president’s appearance at the quarterly meeting was announced on Friday. Josh Bolten, CEO of the Business Roundtable and former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, introduced Biden, while Mary Barra, chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of General Motors, facilitated a closed Q&A session with CEOs and the president.

In his remarks, Biden also warned the group of CEOs about Putin using biological and chemical weapons in Europe.

“The more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ,” he said.

And he pushed back on criticism that the U.S. has not provided enough military equipment to help Ukraine fight back.

“The idea that they don’t have enough sophisticated equipment is just simply not accurate. I’m not going to take the time to go into all of the detail here, but the point is, they have every, every piece of equipment that makes rationale sense based on our military and NATO’s military for them to be able to do what they’re doing,” Biden said.

He added that the Ukrainians are “wreaking havoc” on the Russian military.

Additionally, the president expressed his gratitude to the companies for helping the U.S. and allies impose sanctions against Russia. The U.S. recently ended normalized trade relations with Moscow.

“You did a hell of a lot to help us impose sanctions and incur costs, real costs, on the Russian economy and we’re seeing now that it mattered, it was really important what you all did — not every one of you, I’m not suggesting you all had to but those of you who did step up, it made a big difference,” he said. 

Hundreds of U.S.-based companies have suspended some or all of their operations in Russia, including Apple, Visa, McDonald’s, Disney and Coca-Cola.

The Business Roundtable didn’t release a list of attendees to the meeting on Monday, but its board of directors includes Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Jamie Dimond, CEO of JPMorgan Chase and Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi, among others. 

“We are also leading on the global stage because of you all, I’m pleased to see American companies stepping up and doing their part and what you’re doing in terms of donating to Ukraine and winding down your operations without anybody requesting,” Biden said. “I want to make that clear, you’re on your own winding down operations in Russia, not all but many have, not only you but around the world.”

Earlier on Monday, Biden and other administration officials met with executives from 16 companies across various industries including oil, clean energy and banking, to discuss the situation with Russia.

Tags Biden White House Ukraine Business Roundtable Joe Biden Russian cyberattacks Ukraine invasion Vladimir Putin
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