US officials ramp up warnings about Russian cyberattacks
Top U.S. officials are ramping up their warnings about possible Russian cyberattacks on critical infrastructure as the war in Ukraine escalates.
In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly discussed the threats they’re seeing and the various ways their respective agencies are preparing for potential Russian cyberattacks.
“We are seeing Russian state actors scanning, probing, looking for opportunities, looking for weaknesses in our systems on critical infrastructure, on businesses,” Monaco told Bill Whitaker of “60 Minutes.”
“Think of it as a burglar going around trying to jiggle the lock in your house door to see if it’s open, and we’re seeing that,” Monaco said.
Easterly, who was also featured in the segment, said her agency is seeing “evolving intelligence” indicating that the Russians are planning for possible cyberattacks and that critical infrastructure should assume there is going to be a breach and prepare accordingly.
The warnings are the latest push from government officials urging companies in critical industries to upgrade and strengthen their security systems against cyberattacks. Last month, the White House issued a similar warning following new intelligence suggesting that Russia is exploring “options for potential cyberattacks” against critical infrastructure.
In the interview, Easterly said the Russians are particularly interested in targeting the energy and finance sectors, especially following the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.
Just last week, Ukraine said it successfully thwarted a cyberattack launched by Russian-backed hackers that was intended to damage the country’s power grid. Ukrainian officials said a hacking group tied to Russia’s military intelligence agency was behind the attack.
Ever since the invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have been on edge about how Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to retaliate against the West, especially following the economic sanctions.
“I think we are dealing with a very dangerous, very sophisticated, very well-resourced cyber actor. And that’s why we’ve been telling everybody consistently, shields up. What does that mean? It means assume there will be disruptive cyber activity and make sure you are prepared for it,” Easterly said responding to a question from Whitaker about how the world should protect itself from Putin.
The U.S. Department of Justice has also been actively involved in prosecuting cyber criminals.
Last week, the department took control of a popular hacking website in a coordinated effort to crack down on illegal cyber activities. The website, RaidForums, was a major online marketplace where cybercriminals bought and sold stolen data that contained personal and financial information.
In March, the department charged four Russian nationals accused of having hacked energy sectors in 135 countries, including a foreign oil facility, that caused two separate emergency shutdowns. Prosecutors accused the defendants of installing malware in computer systems of several energy sectors, including nuclear power plants, oil and gas firms, and power transmission companies.
“This was historical activity, but it is very much the type of activity that we are warning about today when it comes to Russia’s response, to the world’s response to the horror in Ukraine,” Monaco said, referring to the recent indictment of the alleged Russian hackers.