President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that his administration will retaliate for a massive cyberattack that targeted U.S. government agencies and is believed to have been carried out by Russian hackers.
“When I learn the extent of the damage and in fact who is formally responsible, they can be assured that we will respond. And probably respond in kind. There’s many options, which I will not discuss now,” Biden said during a press conference with reporters that followed his remarks on the coronavirus pandemic, cybersecurity and the upcoming Christmas holiday.
Pressed by a reporter about what sort of responses were being considered, Biden declined to provide detail, saying it was against norms to outline potential attacks on enemies in such a public forum.
In the attack, the hackers used advanced techniques to target government and corporate networks, including those of IT management company SolarWinds, to steal sensitive information. U.S. officials maintain that the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA) would need weeks, if not months, to determine the scale and scope of the damage.
During his address, Biden noted that both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and outgoing Attorney General William Barr blamed Russia for the cyberattack. He also chided President Trump, who has spent the bulk of his lame-duck period tweeting about supposed election interference.
Trump acknowledged the attack last week, accusing the media of exaggerating its severity while casting doubt that Russia was behind it.
“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,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA.”
Hours earlier, however, Pompeo said of the attack, “We can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians.”
Biden believes the White House should make an “official attribution” that Russia was behind the attack.
“This attack constitutes a grave risk to our national security,” he said. “The truth is this: The Trump administration failed to prioritize cybersecurity.”
The rebuke over Trump’s handling of the attack was perhaps the sharpest criticism Biden has leveled at the president since the election. “This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch, when he wasn’t watching,” Biden added.
The president-elect pledged that his administration will prioritize cybersecurity and seemed resigned to the notion that it was, like the pandemic, one more challenge that he would inherit when he is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
“His failure will land at my doorstep,” Biden said of Trump.
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