DHS chief: US response to foreign cyberattacks should be 'more than commensurate'

DHS chief: US response to foreign cyberattacks should be 'more than commensurate'
© Anna Moneymaker

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenThe Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers MORE issued a warning on cyber threats from foreign countries on Wednesday, saying the U.S.’s response to actors needs to be “more than commensurate.”

“By the time that a country is attacking civilian networks, civilian assets, it’s not a fair fight,” Nielsen said during an event at George Washington University. “It’s not how the international world has created norms and standards. And I don’t think that it should be commensurate, I think it should be more.”

The Homeland Security chief added that the federal government has to move to attribute cyberattacks faster in order to hand down retribution, noting that the actions could be public or “unseen.”

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Nielsen’s comments come after President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE reportedly rolled back an Obama-era directive last month on how the federal government can launch cyberattacks on foreign targets.

The regulations, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, required several agencies to weigh in before an attack. Some critics of the rules argued that they slowed down the U.S.’s ability to respond to foreign threats, while other experts worry about a lack of oversight without clear guidelines in place.

Nielsen, who was speaking on emerging threats to the U.S. shortly ahead of the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, said during prepared remarks that the U.S. “will no long naively assume that a nation state with cyber capabilities chooses not to use them.”

“We will no longer tolerate the threat of our data. We will no longer stand idly by while our networks are penetrated exploited or held hostage,” she said. “Instead we will respond, and we will respond decisively.”

Nielsen also said threats to the U.S. from foreign adversaries are “at the highest levels since the Cold War.”

“They are encouraging us to turn on each other, so we tear ourselves apart from the inside,” she said of hostile nation states. “We have never seen anything quite like it.”