US President Joe Biden has sent one of his strongest signals yet to his opposite numbers in Russia and China, over the issue of cyberattacks.
During a speech to the US intelligence community on Tuesday to warn about growing threats to national security, particularly the wave of cyberattacks, President Biden issued a stark warning.
“I think it’s more than likely we’re going to end up, if we end up in a war – a real shooting war with a major power – it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence and it’s increasing exponentially, the capabilities,” a Reuters video showed him saying during his half hour speech during his visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
Biden’s comments on cyberattacks on Tuesday were clear, and reflect the growing seriousness with which the Biden administration views cyberattacks on American interests, particularly those emanating from groups in Russia and China.
In May British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab publicly warned Russia it cannot continue to shelter criminal gangs carrying out ransomware attacks on Western nations.
Russia in particular has been singled out by the west for cyberattacks stemming from either Russian government-linked hackers, or criminal gangs located in Russia.
This issue was raised during face-to-face talks between US President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in June.
Biden and Putin spent much of that face-to-face meeting talking about cybersecurity issues, with Biden warning Putin of ‘retaliation’ and an ‘aggressive response’ if Russia attacks a list of 16 ‘critical’ industries in America.
Soon after that, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) head Alexander Bortnikov said that Russia would work together with the United States to locate cyber criminals.
The issue of deadly force in response to a cyberattack has long been touted in some circles, but actual cases are very rare.
Yet the first such response seemed to occur in May 2019, when Israel carried out a military airstrike in response to an attempted cyber attack by terrorist group Hamas.
The airstrike against the cyber operation of Hamas, apparently housed in a building in the Gaza Strip, resulted in the Hamas cyber HQ being ‘removed’.
That was thought to be the first time that a nation-state retaliated with physical military action in real time against a cyber attack.
An airstrike response should come as no surprise.
Ever since 2011 the United States said it reserved the right to retaliate with military force against a cyber attack from a hostile state.
In March this year, the UK government’s ‘Integrated Defence Review’ included a small but noteworthy change for the justification of use of the British nuclear arsenal, including attacks on ’emerging technologies.’
Security expert have acknowledged the threats posed by nation-state actors, but warned the best option was to prepare now for an attack in the future.
“Biden has rightly acknowledged the seriousness in cyber threats and potential devastation that cyberattacks hold,” noted Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at global cybersecurity firm ESET.
“Nation state threats in their very make up are advanced and persistent possessing a real danger to targeted countries,” said Moore. “Taking a stand like this now and attempting to futureproof the inevitable is the best way to start mitigating those attacks which have proven extremely worrying in recent months and have the potential of causing even more havoc than we have seen.”
“Much like some businesses and even his predecessor have possibly fallen victim to, it is far more dangerous to stick your head in the sand and think that a cyberattack will simply blow over,” said Moore. “Standing together with a multi-agency approach to withstand such attacks will bolster defences from increasing attacks”.
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