The United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) need to be prepared to face a high-level cyber assault from the Russian government, warned Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on Feb. 28 during a Washington Post virtual event.

Sen. Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he suspects that Russian President Putin may order direct cyberattacks targeting infrastructure inside the U.S. and other NATO allies in response to stringent sanctions being placed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

“When a top-tier nation uses their top talent to attack in the cyber domain, chances are we will not be 100 percent effective at keeping the adversary out. And while we certainly have our defenses up the question is how quickly we can reboot” following an attack, the senator said.

Sen. Warner highlighted the Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021, which he is co-sponsoring with Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as a way to mitigate and increase resiliency against these attacks. The bipartisan legislation would require Federal agencies, government contractors, and critical infrastructure owners and operators to report cyber intrusions to within 24 hours of their discovery.

Discussing possible retaliation by the U.S. for any attack, Sen. Warner said that question involves a delicate balance. While the U.S. should keep its options open, he said some courses of action should be left as a last resort until intelligence experts get a full picture on any illicit cyber activity being undertaken by the Russian government.

“When a cyberweapon is let into a network it doesn’t respect geographic boundaries,” he said. “We should keep our capabilities on the table and be prepared to use them. But I do not believe that we should pre-commit to those until Russian activities take place.”

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.