As many of you have already seen the news, the Russian military has begun operations in Ukraine. Videos and pictures of missiles flying overhead are circulating the Internet this morning and the situation is tense. Russia issued a threat on Wednesday that attempts to interfere with their military operations will be met with ‘consequences never seen.’

Before physical military operations began yesterday, it was reported that critical websites, including many government sites, were taken offline, demonstrating that the Russians already had access to critical Ukrainian infrastructure. President Putin’s threat of retaliation to other nations who would wish to interference in their military operations must be taken extremely seriously.

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency issued an urgent notification to all businesses to protect themselves and to be diligent in their security practice, especially in a time of uncertainty like this. Besides Russian military operations, there could be other nation states who would take advantage of the situation to wage cyberwar against the US. Vigilance is required.

We recommend that all organizations, regardless of size, or function adopt a heightened posture when it comes to cybersecurity and protect their most critical assets by following CISA guidelines. Recommended actions include the following:

Reduce the likelihood of a damaging cyber intrusion

  • Validate that all remote access to the organization’s network and privileged or administrative access requires multi-factor authentication.
  • Ensure that software is up to date, prioritizing updates that address known exploited vulnerabilities identified by CISA.
  • Confirm that the organization’s IT personnel have disabled all ports and protocols that are not essential for business purposes.
  • If the organization is using cloud services, ensure that IT personnel have reviewed and implemented strong controls outlined in CISA’s guidance.
  • Sign up for CISA’s free cyber hygiene services, including vulnerability scanning, to help reduce exposure to threats.

Take steps to quickly detect a potential intrusion

  • Ensure that cybersecurity/IT personnel are focused on identifying and quickly assessing any unexpected or unusual network behavior. Enable logging in order to better investigate issues or events.
  • Confirm that the organization’s entire network is protected by antivirus/antimalware software and that signatures in these tools are updated.
  • If working with Ukrainian organizations, take extra care to monitor, inspect, and isolate traffic from those organizations; closely review access controls for that traffic.

Ensure that the organization is prepared to respond if an intrusion occurs

  • Designate a crisis-response team with main points of contact for a suspected cybersecurity incident and roles/responsibilities within the organization, including technology, communications, legal and business continuity.
  • Assure availability of key personnel; identify means to provide surge support for responding to an incident.
  • Conduct a tabletop exercise to ensure that all participants understand their roles during an incident.

Maximize the organization’s resilience to a destructive cyber incident

  • Test backup procedures to ensure that critical data can be rapidly restored if the organization is impacted by ransomware or a destructive cyberattack; ensure that backups are isolated from network connections.
  • If using industrial control systems or operational technology, conduct a test of manual controls to ensure that critical functions remain operable if the organization’s network is unavailable or untrusted.

By implementing the steps above, all organizations can make near-term progress toward improving cybersecurity and resilience. In addition, while recent cyber incidents have not been attributed to specific actors, CISA urges cybersecurity/IT personnel at every organization to review Understanding and Mitigating Russian State-Sponsored Cyber Threats to U.S. Critical Infrastructure. CISA also recommends organizations visit StopRansomware.gov, a centralized, whole-of-government webpage providing ransomware resources and alerts.

Recommendations for Corporate Leaders and CEOs

Corporate leaders have an important role to play in ensuring that their organization adopts a heightened security posture. CISA urges all senior leaders, including CEOs, to take the following steps:

  • Empower Chief Information Security Officers (CISO): In nearly every organization, security improvements are weighed against cost and operational risks to the business. In this heightened threat environment, senior management should empower CISOs by including them in the decision-making process for risk to the company and ensure that the entire organization understands that security investments are a top priority in the immediate term.
  • Lower Reporting Thresholds: Every organization should have documented thresholds for reporting potential cyber incidents to senior management and to the U.S. government. In this heightened threat environment, these thresholds should be significantly lower than normal. Senior management should establish an expectation that any indications of malicious cyber activity, even if blocked by security controls, should be reported, as noted in the Shields-Up website, to CISA or the FBI. Lowering thresholds will ensure we are able to immediately identify an issue and help protect against further attack or victims.
  • Participate in a Test of Response Plans: Cyber incident response plans should include not only your security and IT teams, but also senior business leadership and Board members. If you’ve not already done, senior management should participate in a tabletop exercise to ensure familiarity with how your organization will manage a major cyber incident, to not only your company but also companies within your supply chain.
  • Focus on Continuity: Recognizing finite resources, investments in security and resilience should be focused on those systems supporting critical business functions. Senior management should ensure that such systems have been identified and that continuity tests have been conducted to ensure that critical business functions can remain available subsequent to a cyber intrusion.
  • Plan for the Worst: While the U.S. government does not have credible information regarding specific threats to the U.S. homeland, organizations should plan for a worst-case scenario. Senior management should ensure that exigent measures can be taken to protect your organization’s most critical assets in case of an intrusion, including disconnecting high-impact parts of the network if necessary.

All organizations should report incidents and anomalous activity to CISA and/or the FBI via your local FBI field office or the FBI’s 24/7 CyWatch at (855) 292-3937 or CyWatch@fbi.gov

This is ongoing and we will release further updates soon.