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EXCLUSIVE: PONTE VEDRA, FLA.—The top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, and the head of the GOP cybersecurity task force, Rep. John Katko, that he would be “very surprised” if Russia does not carry out a cyber attack against the United States, warning that the Biden administration is “not doing anything” to prevent attacks.
Biden, on Monday, warned that U.S. officials have collected “evolving intelligence” to suggest that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks against the United States amid its multi-front war against Ukraine.
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Katko, R-N.Y., on the sidelines of the House Republican Issues Conference, said it is “good” that Biden is warning Americans, noting that a cyberattack from Russia could be “quite severe.”
“Assume there is a heightened chance of that happening, given Russia has got their backs agains the wall and things aren’t going well in Ukraine,” Katko told Fox News. “Assume that that is probably going to happen, and act accordingly.”
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned U.S. organizations at all levels that they could face cyber threats stemming from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The Biden administration has worked to strengthen cyber defenses after a string of ransomware attacks last summer, with foreign malign actors targeting pieces of U.S. critical infrastructure.
In June 2021, a ransomware assault shut down the U.S.-based meat plants of the world’s largest meatpacker, Brazil-based JBS. The White House said the hack was likely carried out by a criminal group based in Russia.
The attack on JBS came just weeks after the largest U.S. fuel pipeline, the East Coast’s Colonial Pipeline, was targeted by a criminal group originating in Russia.
Biden, during his summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2021, raised the issue of ransomware. Biden, at the time, said he told Putin that “certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack.” Biden said he gave a list of “16 specific entities defined as critical infrastructure,” saying it ranged from energy to water systems.
Putin, though, during his press conference after the meeting, denied that Russia was responsible for cyberattacks and instead claimed that most cyberattacks in the world were carried out from the U.S.
But Katko slammed Biden for his strategy.
“I wanted to scream,” Katko told Fox News. “Everything is off limits—they shouldn’t be doing it at all, and if they are doing it, we should be fighting back hard.”
“The problem is this administration has not gone back against Russia, has not gone back against China, has not gone back against Iran,” Katko continued. “We’re not doing anything about it and the bad guys are getting emboldened.”
Katko told Fox News that the “biggest thing” Congress can do is ensure that the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is given “the tools it needs.”
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“It needs more funding and support, but they’re doing a great job already,” Katko said. “They do not need to be a regulatory agency, they need to be a partner with the private sector to keep the system secure, and if they continue to do that, that would be great.”
Katko added that “the more resources” Congress can give CISA, “the better our country is going to be from a cyber standpoint.”
On whether Russia will carry out a cyberattack against the United States, Katko replied: “I’d be very surprised if they don’t.”
Pointing to the attacks last year on the Colonial Pipeline and JBS, Katko said Russia was looking to “disrupt our fuel supply.”
“You know, if Russia hit critical infrastructure, energy, power grids, banking institutions, hospitals, wherever, whatever they do, that can have a profound effect on all Americans,” Katko warned. “We need to be ready for it and we need to have our guard up and we need to make sure our systems are as secure as they can be.”
Biden, this week, said this is “a critical moment to accelerate our work to improve domestic cybersecurity and bolster our national resilience.”
The Biden administration has been warning about the potential for “malicious cyber activity” against the United States by the Russian government—which Biden said could be a response to the “unprecedented economic costs we’ve imposed on Russia alongside our allies and partners. 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,” Biden said Monday.
The Biden administration has been working to “strengthen” US national cyber defenses, and has mandated “extensive cybersecurity measures for the Federal Government and those critical infrastructure sectors where we have authority to do so.”
The president on Monday also stressed that the administration has created “public-private partnerships and initiatives to enhance cybersecurity across all our critical infrastructure.”
“Congress has partnered with us on these efforts — we appreciate that Members of Congress worked across the aisle to require companies to report cyber incidents to the United States Government,” Biden said.
“My Administration will continue to use every tool to deter, disrupt, and if necessary, respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure,” the president said Monday, but said the “Federal Government can’t defend against this threat alone.”
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“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,” Biden said. ” The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been actively working with organizations across critical infrastructure to rapidly share information and mitigation guidance to help protect their systems and networks.”
The president urged private sector partners to “harden your cyber defenses immediately by implementing the best practices we have developed together over the last year.”
“You have the power, the capacity, and the responsibility to strengthen the cybersecurity and resilience of the critical services and technologies on which Americans rely,” Biden said.
“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.”
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Biden in July signed a national security memorandum directing his administration to develop cybersecurity performance goals for critical infrastructure in the U.S. – entities like electricity utility companies, chemical plants and nuclear reactors.
The memo also formally established Biden’s Cyber Security Initiative, a voluntary collaborative effort between the federal government and critical infrastructure entities to facilitate the deployment of technology and systems that provide threat visibility indicators and detections.