United States President-elect Joe Biden warned the recently uncovered cyber-“assault” on government computers had compromised US national security and would not “go unanswered” once he becomes president.
“This attack constitutes a grave risk to our national security,” Biden said on Tuesday at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, in which he blamed President Donald Trump for “downplaying” the seriousness of the hack and failing to attribute it to Russia.
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“This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch when he wasn’t watching,” Biden said.
US officials blame Russian hackers for the infiltration and fear the US may have lost vital secrets while also becoming exposed to future cyberattacks that could shutdown main computer networks and weapons systems.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any Russian involvement in the cyberintrusion.
The data breach, which reportedly infiltrated more than 40 federal agencies and went undetected for months, was first reported by the Reuters news agency and The Washington Post newspaper on December 13.
It “was carefully planned and carefully orchestrated … using sophisticated cybertools” and caught the US “off-guard and unprepared”, Biden said. US intelligence agencies are scrambling to determine the depth of the damage and have asked Congress for money to address the problem.
“We can’t let this go unanswered,” Biden said. “That means making clear and publicly who is responsible for the attack and taking meaningful steps to hold them to account.”
Biden, who will take office on January 20, said he would “impose costs” on those who conducted the cyberespionage once an official US government determination is reached and said he expects to have bipartisan support in the US Congress for any action he may take.
It should be a “warning to our adversaries”, he said.
Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, said in a US television interview on December 20 that Trump has a “blind spot” when it comes to Russia.
“The reality here is that the experts, the people who really understand how our systems work and how computers work and software, and so forth, the thousands upon thousands at the CIA and the NSA and the Department of Defense have determined this came from Russia,” Romney told TV network NBC news.“This is an extraordinarily damaging invasion, and it went on for a long, long time,” Romney said.
US intelligence agency officials informed members of key congressional committees on December 16.
“The seriousness and duration of this attack demonstrate that we still have enormous and urgent work to do to defend our critical information and networks,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, said in a statement issued after the briefing.
Trump, who has otherwise been focused on his unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the November election, tweeted on December 19 that the hack was less significant than reported by the media and said, “everything is well under control”.
Trump went on to suggest without evidence that Chinese hackers, not Russia, might have been behind the cyberespionage campaign.
The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had previously said in an interview on a conservative talk radio programme that “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity”.