U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he announces additional candidates and candidates during a press conference at his interim headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware on December 11, 2020.
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WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States, under his leadership, would join forces with allies to “incur” significant costs “to opponents of cyberattacks such as the massive breach of US government agencies and corporations revealed earlier this month to impose.
“A good defense is not enough. We must first stop our opponents from carrying out significant cyber attacks,” said Biden in a statement from his transition team.
“We will do this by, among other things, imposing substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks, also in coordination with our allies and partners. Our opponents should know that I, as President, will not remain idle cyber attacks on our nation.”
The statement is Biden’s first formal response as President-elect to news of the month-long cyber attack, which experts say bears the hallmarks of a state-sponsored Russian operation.
It also signals a possible shift towards a tougher stance on Russian cyberwar tactics than that of the current Trump administration.
Biden noted that his in-depth national security team had been briefed on the attacks by career officials at relevant government agencies.
On Wednesday evening, the three lead agencies responsible for investigating the attack and protecting the nation from cyber threats, the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, announced the formation of a joint venture Command to respond to what is known as a “major and ongoing cybersecurity campaign” against the United States.
“This is an evolving situation, and as we continue to work to understand the full scope of this campaign, we know that this compromise has affected networks within the federal government,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
Both government agencies and private companies affected by the attack are striving to gain a clearer picture of the full extent of the breach and the potential damage to US cyber infrastructure and critical information systems.
The initial investigation revealed that the breach was malicious code hidden in a software update from widely used IT management company SolarWinds. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.
In a briefing with Congress officials earlier this week, CISA officials warned that the perpetrator of this attack was sophisticated and that it would take weeks, if not months, to determine the total number of agencies affected by the attack and the extent of sensitive data and information possibly compromised. “
The CISA warning was revealed in a letter the Democratic Committee Chairs in the House of Representatives sent Thursday to senior officials at the FBI, CISA and ODNI for more details about the attack.
This timeline suggests that it will be Biden, not the outgoing President Donald Trump, who will ultimately be responsible for determining what retaliation, if any, is warranted against those behind the attacks. Biden will take office on January 20th.
Trump has yet to respond personally to the latest attack. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that the government is “looking at this closely”.
But Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a frequent Trump critic, described the White House’s lukewarm response to the attack as “inexcusable.”
Trump has had an unusually cordial relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his four-year tenure, despite repeated attempts by the Kremlin to undermine US elections and democratic processes and its cyberwar campaign.