Citing "evolving intelligence" on Russian intentions, U.S. President Joe Biden called on American companies "to harden your cyber defenses immediately" in a March 21 statement. He stressed that "vigilance and urgency today can prevent or mitigate attacks tomorrow."

He repeated that the "unprecedented economic costs we've imposed on Russia" in response to the War in Ukraine might well prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch such attacks. Biden said he was continuing "to use every tool to deter, disrupt, and respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure." But he noted that most of the country's infrastructure was in the hands of the private sector.

"The Federal Government can't defend against this threat alone," he said. The statement can be viewed on the White House website.

No certainty of an attack on infrastructure

Later that day, Biden told a group of business leaders, "the magnitude of Russia's cyber capacity is fairly consequential, and it's coming." He told them they had "a patriotic obligation" to spend "as much as you can to make sure... that you have built up your technological capacity to deal with cyberattacks." The text of Biden's remarks to the Business Roundtable's CEO Quarterly Meeting is at the White House website.

"There is no certainty there will be a cyber incident on critical infrastructure," said Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger at a March 21 White House press briefing.

While the government did not have evidence of the specific future attack, the United States had detected "preparatory activity," she said.

The government and the private sector had already worked together to minimize vulnerability to cyberattacks, but there was still much to do to ensure "that we've locked our digital doors."

She said companies were still falling victims to hacking which could be easily prevented.

"This is deeply troubling," she said. Neuberger's remarks have been posted on the White House YouTube channel.

NPR recalled that the East Coast of the United States had experienced gas shortages after Colonial Pipeline had fallen victim to a cyberattack by hackers with links to Russia in May 2021. However, Russia had yet to carry out a massive cyber assault on infrastructure in Ukraine, the public broadcaster noted.

The New York Times recalled that this February, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry website had been the target of cyberattacks believed to have been carried out by foreign intelligence agencies.

Companies told to stage emergency drills

One of the White House statements spelled out steps companies could take to beef up their cybersecurity. One of the recommendations was running emergency drills and exercises to ensure that employees are ready "to respond quickly to minimize the impact of any attack."