Russia-Ukraine war has improved US cyber cooperation, says key official

FILE – Ukrainian soldiers on captured Russian tanks T-72 hold military training close to the Ukraine-Belarus border near Chernihiv, Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. The West’s move to send tanks to Ukraine was greeted enthusiastically from Kyiv, Berlin and Washington. (AP Photo/Aleksandr Shulman, File)

Nathaniel Fick, U.S. ambassador at large for cyberspace and digital policy, said on Thursday that the Russia-Ukraine war prompted the government to significantly increase its partnership with the private sector, a practice that was less common in prior years.

Fick, who was confirmed in August to head the State Department’s new cyber bureau, said that over the past year, he has seen a fundamental change in how the government and the private sector collaborate on cybersecurity issues.

“When I was a cybersecurity CEO, public-private partnership was a feel-good buzz term,” he said. “It generally meant I shared my data with the government, the government classified it, and I got nothing back.”

“That is emphatically no longer the case,” he added.

Fick made his remarks during an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund, where he was responding to a question about how the Russia-Ukraine war has changed the game in cyberspace.

Fick also noted how public-private partnership in cyberspace helped Ukraine counter Russian cyberattacks. 

“In Ukraine … Microsoft and others were able to push updates at scale in real time based on collaboration with the U.S. intelligence community that allowed them to blunt these attacks,” Fick said.

“It’s not that the attacks weren’t happening, it’s that they weren’t being effective,” he added.

Last year, Microsoft announced that it had thwarted Russian cyberattacks targeting Ukraine and organizations in the United States and the European Union.

Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of customer security and trust, said the attacks were launched by a Russian hacking group called Strontium, who is reportedly tied to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.

Burt said Microsoft was able to interfere with the cyberattacks from Strontium after the tech giant obtained a court order enabling it to take over online domains used by the group.

Since the onset of the war, the U.S. government has also stepped up its efforts to assist Ukraine and other Eastern European countries in shoring up their cyber defenses, which have helped counter Russian cyberattacks and mitigate their impact. 

Fick’s remarks also fall in line with comments made last year by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

While testifying before a House committee hearing in November, Mayorkas told lawmakers that his agency is focused on strengthening its public-private partnerships and its collaboration with foreign partners. He added that these partnerships are “increasingly vital” as hostile nations expand their cyber capabilities and increasingly seek to target critical infrastructure within the U.S.

During his confirmation hearing, Fick vowed to establish a culture within his bureau and the entire agency in which expertise in cyber and digital technologies is a must. He also promised to focus on foreign threats, including Russian cyberattacks and the U.S.’s digital competition with China. 

Fick was previously the general manager of the tech firm Elastic. Prior to that, he was the CEO of Endgame, a cybersecurity software company. Fick also served in the Marine Corps, with combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Tags Microsoft russia ukraine

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