Intel vice chair says government agency cyber attack 'may have started earlier'

Intel vice chair says government agency cyber attack 'may have started earlier'
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that the cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies reported in December may have begun earlier than previously believed.

“The initial burrowing in may have started earlier,” Warner told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Warner told the outlet that no evidence has been discovered that suggests classified government secrets were breached.

“The amount of time it’s taking to assess the [latest] attack, it's taking longer than we would like to take,” Warner said.

The Virginia senator said gaps in U.S, and international law are making it difficult for the government to prevent large-scale hacks and called for tighter controls to be enacted.

Resistance to heightened cyberspace legal controls dates back to the Obama administration, Warner told Reuters, saying people from both the government and private sector “pushed back ferociously” at such suggestions.

The attacks came through a software update sent out by Texas-based software company SolarWinds, which counts multiple U.S. government agencies as customers.

As Reuters noted, the hack was done through what is called a "supply chain attack," in which malicious code is hidden in legitimate software updates and meant to target third parties, in this case the U.S. government.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoDeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Pompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen MORE has said that Russia is the most likely suspect behind the attacks. President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE, however, has pointed a finger at China. A Chinese official shot down the suggestions, saying the U.S. had "politicized" the issue without "conclusive evidence."

"We hope the United States will take a more responsible attitude on cyber security," Wang Wenbin of the Chinese foreign ministry told reporters.

"There has been obviously a reluctance out of this White House to call out Russia repeatedly,” Warner said. “I don’t believe that is a problem of the intelligence community. I think that is a problem of the White House.”

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Ex-Trump appointee arrested in Capitol riot complains he won't be able to sleep in jail Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits MORE called for modernizing U.S. defenses last week in light of the attacks.

“We have to be able to innovate and reimagine our defenses against growing threats in new realms like cyberspace," Biden said.