The U.S. is working to improve Ukraine’s cyber defenses in the face of Russian threat

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The prospect of a cyberattack amid heightened regional tensions creates a stark contrast against delicate diplomatic efforts the U.S. is pursuing to thwart ransomware criminals officials say are operating out of Russia.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Tech Anne Neuberger will meet with European allies this week as part of an effort to shore up Ukrainian cyber defenses in case of an attack from Russia.

“We have been working closely with Ukrainians to harden their defenses, and we will continue to do so in the days ahead,” senior administration officials told reporters Tuesday. “That being said, significant improvements in resilience don’t happen in weeks, and we are realistic about what we can achieve, and also [are] focused on ensuring we have incident response capacity available to them, if needed. The [National Security Council] has been talking to various European counterparts to coordinate that.”

The officials said Neuberger will first travel to Brussels to meet with European Union counterparts and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and then also head to Warsaw to meet with eastern flank NATO members.  

The effort is coming just weeks after White House officials credited diplomatic channels it established with Russia for the arrest of an individual they believe was responsible for attacking Colonial Pipeline. At the time, the administration said they had not attributed a cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites to Russia. 

On Monday, officials from Russia and the U.S. publicly squared off over Ukraine’s autonomy in a heated exchange during a U.N. Security Council meeting and western allies are on edge for cyber offenses that they warn could have targets outside Ukraine.

“Across all of these engagements, our focus is on ensuring that the United States and our Allies and partners are prepared for any cyber-related contingency and prepared to respond in the current environment,” the senior administration officials said Tuesday. “We will also discuss how we will coordinate and support Ukraine, and each other, in the event that cyberattacks occur.”

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