Biden signs a memo to strengthen cyber-security defences.

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On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed a memo to strengthen national defences against cyberattacks and counter major online attacks against federal government and private-sector targets.

Biden signed the national security memo on “improving cybersecurity for critical infrastructure control systems” implementing what the administration says are “long overdue efforts” to meet ongoing threats.

“The cybersecurity threats posed to the systems that control and operate the critical infrastructure on which we all depend are among the most significant and growing issues confronting our nation,” the memo states.

The Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and National Institute of Standards and Technology will be part of the effort, officials said.

“We expect those standards will assist companies responsible for providing essential services like power, water and transportation to strengthen their cybersecurity,” the White House said in a statement.

“The degradation, destruction, or malfunction of systems that control this infrastructure can have cascading physical consequences that could have a debilitating effect on national security, economic security, and the public health and safety of the American people.”

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The memo outlines several goals, including developing cybersecurity performance goals and deploying technology and systems that provide threat visibility, indicators, detections and warnings.

It calls on companies to meet various online security standards including encrypting data and all users on a system to enable two-factor authentication to combat hackers.

“Our current posture is woefully insufficient given the evolving threat we face today. We really kicked the can down the road for a long time,” an administration official said. “The administration is committed to leveraging every authority we have, though limited, and we are also open to new approaches, both voluntary and mandatory.”

Officials said recent ransomware attacks on the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods in the United States illustrated how fragile cybersecurity can be in the private sector.

The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack in May crippled delivery of about 100 million gallons of gas per day along the East Coast. The shutdown led to fuel shortages and panic buying at gas pumps.

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The memo comes after Biden on Tuesday warned that cyberattacks could escalate into physical warfare during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“If we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence,” Biden said.

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