Cyber security experts offer defense tips as White House warns Russia against cyberattacks on U.S.

Jessica De Nova Image
Saturday, February 26, 2022
Cyber security tips as Biden warns Russia against cyberattacks on U.S.
As Russia launched cyberattacks on Ukraine, Cyber security experts say similar attacks are possible here at home, and offer helpful tips to increase your cyber defense.

ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- Security analysts said Russian assaults in Ukraine were not limited to the physical, but that cyberattacks were underway Thursday, and could spread to the U.S. and around the world.

Javed Ali is the former Senior Director of Counterterrorism at the National Security Council and a former DHS and FBI official.

Ali said cyber operations in Ukraine by Russia go back several years.

"Ukraine has been sort of their petri dish for cyber operations that they then can perfect for future attacks there, or even elsewhere to include the United States," Ali said.

Dr. Alexi Drew is the Defence and Security Research Group Senior Analyst with RAND Europe.

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Dr. Drew said low-level operations like denial-of-service, or DOS attacks, were taking down government websites in Ukraine by flooding them with fake users.

"It's designed to try and discredit and undermine government to the point that, you know, people start to have less faith in its ability to operate because effectively it struggles to operate because these services have been taken offline," Dr. Drew said.

The next move, a malware operation deleting data and rendering computers useless. This sort of digital attack can go beyond its target.

In 2017, the NotPetya operation targeting Ukrainian financial institutions cost billions of dollars around the globe. In 2021, the blame for the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack was attributed to Russian criminal hackers.

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President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday meant to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity defenses in response to a series of headline-grabbing hacking incidents that highlight how vulnerable the country's public and private sectors are.

The CEO of the Knowledge and Intelligence Program Professionals, Hal Kempfer, said "the reality, is the Russian state kind of uses these gangs or criminal enterprises as sort of a cutout, if you will, to do things," and added that the goal was to "impede U.S. commerce, or critical infrastructure, or financial infrastructure, to cause as much pain and disruption as possible in any way that would slow us down from what we're doing over with Europe and NATO."

Analysts said it all showed that the Russian government has the capability for a more sophisticated assault on critical infrastructure in Ukraine and around the world, but said that was highly unlikely to happen in the U.S. or against NATO allies because there would be consequences.

Thursday morning, President Biden made that clear.

"If Russia pursues cyberattacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond," Biden said. "For months, we've been working closely with the private sector to harden our cyber defenses, sharpen our ability to respond to Russian cyberattacks as well."

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In case digital assaults spill over, cyber security experts said you can prepare by increasing your cyber defense. They recommend you change your passwords, and make them difficult to crack by using two-factor authentication, buying a VPN service to mask your IP address, and updating software when notified.

"It may be very difficult to get to 100 percent defense, but you just want to make it as hard as possible for cyber actors to get into your systems so they shift their focus to someone or something else," Ali said. "I think that these are all basic things that we can do as everyday Americans to keep us all safe."