The White House’s top cybersecurity advisor today blamed Russia for cyberattacks earlier this week against the Ukrainian government and banking sectors and said that the U.S. is actively helping Ukraine to fend off cyber assaults in the run-up to a possible Russian military invasion of that country.

Anne Neuberger, who is Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, pinned the reported DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks on the Russian military’s GRU intelligence wing. She said the impact of the attacks was not long-lasting, in part because of the help that the U.S. is providing to Ukraine.

Neuberger explained that the U.S. has been helping Ukraine in earnest on the cyber front since November 2021. And she said the U.S. was rushing to attribute this week’s attacks on Ukrainian state-owned banks and its Ministry of Defense because “Russia likes to move in the shadows and counts on a long process of attribution.”

“We have technical information that links the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU” to infrastructure that was seen this week “transmitting high volumes of communication to Ukraine-based IP addresses and domains,” Neuberger said.

“We’ve shared the underlying intelligence with Ukraine and with our European partners,” she continued.  Saying that this week’s attacks had “limited impact,” Neuberger continued that “this recent spate of cyberattacks in Ukraine are consistent with what a Russian effort could look like, and laying the groundwork for more disruptive cyberattacks accompanying a potential further invasion of Ukraine sovereign territory.”

“We’ve been preparing for this possibility,” Neuberger said, adding that since November 2021 . “we further intensified our support to the government of Ukraine, specifically to network defenders.”

That intensified effort, she said, centers on “working to help them respond to and recover from cyber incidents, as well as strengthen the resilience of cyber critical infrastructure.”

Neuberger also emphasized that the Federal government has been helping to shore up U.S. critical infrastructure cyber defenses, and in that regard has been “preparing for potential geopolitical contingencies since before Thanksgiving.”

“The White House has coordinated extensive outreach by agencies with the private sector, specifically private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure in that outreach,” she said. “Departments and agencies have gone to unprecedented and extraordinary lengths to share sensitive information, and most importantly, to outline specific steps companies can take to make their systems more secure.”

Noting that most critical infrastructure in the U.S. is privately owned, she said, “we urge our private sector partners to exercise incident response plans and put in place the cybersecurity defenses like encryption and multi factor authentication that make cyberattacks harder for even sophisticated cyber actors.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.