Now's the time to protect your computer networks from cyberattack

Anton Dahbura from the Information Security Institute suggests that individuals and enterprises should take steps now to secure cyber systems against attack from Russian agents

A person enters a passcode on their phone

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The invasion of Ukraine has put cybersecurity experts on alert for potential Russian cyberattacks against the United States and other countries. "Americans have particular reason to worry," Anton Dahbura, an expert in information security, computer science, cyber warfare at Johns Hopkins University, writes in an email to the Hub. After heavy sanctions have been levied against Moscow, the risk that an economically wounded Russian President Vladimir Putin will launch retaliatory cyberattacks has grown, Dahbura says.

"Russia is now the first open adversary in history of the United States with advanced offensive cybersecurity capabilities," writes Dahbura, who is the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy. "In addition to the Russian government's offensive cyber expertise, there is a vast number of criminal elements engaging in ransomware attacks and unleashing other kinds of malware against the U.S. and elsewhere. [These criminal enterprises] are allowed by the Russian government to exist and, in some cases, could be coordinated by Russian government agencies."

Dahbura and his colleague Terry Thompson, a cybersecurity and global affairs expert, devised and lead the Cyber Attack Predictive Index, or CAPI, which predicts the possibility of future cyber conflict between nations. The index currently scores the potential of a Russian attack against the U.S. as having a "high likelihood."

Cyberattacks can be automated and scaled up, Dahbura warns, so it is imperative that information systems that undergird critical infrastructure—such as energy and water supply, health care systems, food supply chains, and manufacturing—be reinforced for cybersecurity.

"This is a great time to take time to bolster the defenses we have available in all of our IT resources, from our personal laptops and social media accounts up to enterprise systems," Dahbura says. Individuals should consider these simple steps that can help assure their own security:

  • Change and strengthen your passwords
  • Back up your files
  • Make sure your software is up-to-date
  • Don't click on links in suspicious emails, social media messages, or text messages
  • Don't visit websites that aren't known companies or organizations
  • Don't provide any information about yourself or your systems to anyone over the phone or via email

These steps, Dahbura says, will reduce the chance that you or your organization can become a target of any cyberattacks by Russia or anyone else.