US Receives Ransomware Warning

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Businesses and local governments in America have been told to prepare for possible cyber-attacks following President Joe Biden's announcement of new sanctions against Russia. 

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said that the United States would impose sanctions upon two large Russian financial institutions and Russian sovereign debt. Administration officials said that additional sanctions were imposed against members of the Russian elite and the families. 

The sanctions were imposed in response to the movement of Russian troops into two pro-Russian breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin recognized as independent on Monday. 

"This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine," Biden said. "Russia has now undeniably moved against Ukraine by declaring these independent states."

Minutes after Biden announced the new sanctions, a senior FBI cyber official reportedly briefed US private executives and state and local officials about potential ransomware attacks.

Speaking over the phone, FBI Cyber Section chief David Ring allegedly asked state and local leaders and business executives to think about how the provision of critical services could be disrupted by ransomware. 

According to two people who were on the call, Ring described Russia as a "permissive operating environment" for cyber-criminals which "is not going to get any smaller" while geopolitical tensions continue to escalate between the US and Russia over Ukraine. 

During the briefing, Ring allegedly warned that the US could experience "a possible increase in cyber threat activity" from hackers operating with the backing of Russia.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it has been waging a cybersecurity awareness campaign to encourage Americans to take a proactive approach to digital defense. 

"DHS has been engaging in an outreach campaign to ensure that public and private sector partners are aware of evolving cybersecurity risks and taking steps to increase their cybersecurity preparedness," said a DHS spokesperson in a statement.

Principal research scientist at Sophos, Chester Wisniewski, warned that pro-Russian cyber-criminals may attack Americans as an act of patriotism.

"Non-state actors often attack perceived enemies in a sort of patriotic fervor, which could lead to an increase in cybercrime originating from criminals supporting the Russian cause," said Wisniewski.

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