What will be the US response to the Russian cyberattack?

What Russia stands to gain from a cyberattack against the U.S.

What will be the US response to the Russian cyberattack?

Experts do not rule out that the United States has already begun to implement retaliatory measures

US President-elect Joe Biden during his press conference on Tuesday, December 22, said that the current administration did not pay enough attention to cybersecurity, and also called on Donald Trump to publicly blame the hacking on Russia. The latter, according to cybersecurity experts, is behind the current cyber attack on the United States..

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Friday that Russia is behind the next massive cyber attack, but on Saturday President Trump expressed doubts about this on his Twitter, suggesting that the scale of the hacker attack was exaggerated by the media and that it could have been organized at all China. President Trump also wrote that everything is “under control”.

Joe Biden, however, noted on Tuesday that he sees no evidence that the situation is “under control.” He also added that this cyberattack by Russia will not go unanswered after he takes office as President of the United States. The future head of the White House administration, Ron Klein, also said that the response of the future Biden administration will not be limited to sanctions alone..

A hacker breach discovered last week affected at least six US government departments, including the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Thousands of private companies, which, along with the US government, were clients of the IT company SolarWinds, whose software was exposed to a malicious virus, could also become victims of the attack. The scale of the hack, which supposedly happened in March, the degree of penetration into the systems and whether any data was stolen, are still being estimated by cyber experts..

Meanwhile, a number of US lawmakers, who receive information through closed briefings, are in favor of a tough response from Washington. Thus, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin called Russia’s actions “actually a declaration of war by the United States,” and Republican Senator Marco Rubio said that Moscow “carried out the most serious cyber intrusion in our history,” and that “America must respond, and not only with sanctions.” Republican Senator Mitt Romney also accused President Trump of “myopia” when it comes to Russia and stressed that the US must respond to the incident..

Cybersecurity experts point out that at the moment the most important task is to assess the real damage from hacking and restore the protective potential of the system. At the same time, they do not rule out that Washington may already conduct a number of covert retaliatory actions..

“The United States is certainly conducting offensive cyber operations in Russia. I have no doubt that some kind of response is already being implemented that the public does not see and will never know about, ”said a cybersecurity expert, a researcher at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution in Washington. Tara Wheeler (Tarah Wheeler, Harvard University, Brookings Institution).

“The United States has significant ability to keep track of what is happening in the systems of other countries,” says an expert from the German Marshall Fund. Ian Wallace (Ian Wallace, German Marshall Fund). “And my guess is that at least part of the current administration’s response will be to try to gather as much information as possible about the purpose of these infiltrations.”.

The targets that the hackers have pursued are also essential to the kind of retaliation the United States can take. No matter how daring and large-scale this attack may be, today we can say that in accordance with international law it is not an act of war and can be regarded as an act of espionage, according to the experts interviewed..

“This cyber attack was cyber espionage, not cyber war. “This is equivalent to tapping a telephone line in a foreign country to collect information,” says Tara Wheeler, recalling that espionage is, in fact, common in international politics. “It was not an act of actively destroying information or replacing it. It was not something that could rise to the level of what we define as war. “.

Nonetheless, these attacks are far more widespread than the current administration would like to imagine, she said. In recent years, the United States has invested significant resources in the development of offensive operations in the cybersphere, with less emphasis on cyber defense. This has been repeatedly warned by many experts, Wheeler adds..

What will be the US response to the Russian cyberattack?

Russia could decide on the current cyberattack also believing that the Trump administration will not resort to a decisive response in the event of a breach, says Ian Wallace: “This calculation was based, among other things, on how the Trump administration at the highest political level has acted over the past four years. … The willingness of Russians to be proactive towards the agency that controls the US nuclear potential, which is a rather aggressive and potentially destabilizing act, has been influenced by the way the Trump administration has responded to Russian cyber activity over the past few years. “.

“But it is obvious that Russian espionage for America did not begin with the Trump administration, and I am sure it will not end with its departure,” the expert adds..

Even if Russia’s actions do not qualify as cyber war, the US must still respond to prevent future attacks. These measures should also go beyond cyberspace, experts say, and include a whole range of retaliatory steps in the framework of foreign policy – publicizing such actions and the individuals and organizations behind them, reducing diplomatic relations and sanctions..

Reputable economist and expert at the Atlantic Council Anders Aslund (Anders Aslund, Atlantic Council): Financial sanctions will be the most painful sanctions against the Kremlin.

What will be the US response to the Russian cyber attack?
What will be the US response to the Russian cyberattack?

If the United States passes the Corporate Transparency Act, which ends the registration of anonymous companies in the United States, it will deal a blow to anonymous offshore campaigns. The latter are often used by Russian kleptocrats, officials and Putin’s entourage to withdraw corruption money from Russia. The Corporate Transparency Act is annexed to the US Defense Budget Act 2021, which may be enacted shortly..

Also effective will be sanctions against the financial sector and large state-owned companies such as Rosneft, adds Anders Aslund. In his opinion, the new Biden administration will strengthen supervision over the application of sanctions, and the sanctions policy itself will be more orderly..

“Also, we can expect closer cooperation with allies, in particular with the European Union – something that has not been done properly over the past three years,” the expert adds..

The US response should affect the interests of President Putin and his inner circle, according to Ian Wallace, since the diplomatic and sanctions measures taken so far have not brought a significant change in the Kremlin’s behavior: “The goal of the US administration and its allies should be a coherent approach. to make Russia think before daring to carry out such a daring act of espionage in the future “.

The new Biden administration should also analyze the existing US cyber strategy and strengthen the country’s defense, experts say. Currently, the US Defense Budget Act 2021 includes the largest bill in the cybersphere, which also includes a clause on the creation of the position of director of cybersecurity in the White House. “If this is accepted, then I think one of the first actions of the Biden administration will be to appoint someone who will come up with a more coordinated response,” adds Ian Wallace..

  • Valeria Jegisman

    Voice of America journalist. Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics

What will be the US response to the Russian cyberattack?
What will be the US response to the Russian cyber attack?

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