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Biden: US taking 'urgent' steps to improve cybersecurity

Biden: US taking 'urgent' steps to improve cybersecurity
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President Biden said Thursday that his administration is launching an “urgent initiative” to improve the nation’s cybersecurity, pointing to concerns around malign efforts by Russia and China.

“We’ve elevated the status of cyber issues within our government,” Biden said as part of a national security speech at the State Department. “We are launching an urgent initiative to improve our capability, readiness and resilience in cyberspace.”

Biden pointed to advances made by his administration including the creation of the new position of deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. Anne Neuberger, the former director of the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Directorate, was appointed to fill the position last month.

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The president did not elaborate on other steps his administration is specifically taking and the White House did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment for further details.

Biden has previously underscored his commitment to defending the nation against cyberattacks, in particular through his comments around the recently discovered Russian breach of IT group SolarWinds, which compromised much of the federal government for over a year.

He described the hack during a speech in December as constituting a “grave threat to national security,” and later in the month separately pushed for modernization of the nation’s defenses to address new and evolving risks.

Biden also included more than $10 billion in cybersecurity and information technology funds as part of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery proposal, with the proposal describing the nation’s cybersecurity as a "crisis."

The president during his speech Thursday afternoon also cited specific international cybersecurity concerns, including challenges from Russia and China.

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Biden zeroed in on Russia in particular, saying he had emphasized to Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinQueen's cousin and associate accused of 'secretly trading on their links' to Putin, monarchy for profit Putin warns of resurgence in Nazi beliefs on anniversary of WWII's end Biden 'confident' meeting with Putin will take place soon MORE during his first call in office that his administration would push back against various interference efforts.

“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens, are over,” Biden said. “We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.”

Biden also noted that while he hoped his administration could work with both the Russian and Chinese governments, he would also hold China accountable, a nation he described as “our most serious competitor." 

“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance, but we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America's interest to do so,” Biden said. 

Biden’s comments on Russia echoed those made earlier in the day by national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanThe Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel Hamas fires rockets toward Jerusalem and southern Israel Sullivan tells Israeli counterpart US has 'serious concerns' about Jerusalem violence MORE, who told reporters at the White House that the administration would be “taking steps to hold Russia accountable for the range of malign activities undertaken,” including election interference and major hacks like the SolarWinds incident. 

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“We will do that at a time and a manner of our choosing, and we believe that imposing those costs and consequences will have an effect on Russia’s behavior going forward,” Sullivan said. “Now, is it going to stop Vladimir Putin from doing everything we don’t like? Of course not, but do we believe we will be able to take a firmer, more effective line when it comes to Russian aggression and bad behavior? Yes we do.”

Russia is also under the microscope from the U.S. intelligence community, with Biden last month ordering assessments of Russian malign efforts on issues including election interference and the impact of the SolarWinds hack. 

A group of former secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday urged Biden to take a strong stance against Russia, underlining the country's continued threat in cyberspace.

“One of the big issues for the incoming administration, is going to be to send a very clear message ... that we will not suffer violence, and we will respond forcefully to efforts to subvert our unity or our system, and I think this is going to be an ongoing challenge,” former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, said in reference to Russia during a virtual event hosted by the University of California, Berkeley.

Obama-era DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson noted that while the U.S. had been fixated on protecting elections over the past year, Russian hackers had hit the federal government in other ways through the SolarWinds hack, underlining the need to focus on a range of ways that foreign adversaries could interfere. 

“My general attitude, which I conveyed to people at DHS when in office, was don’t plan for the last attack, plan for the next one, anticipate for the next move of the adversary,” he said.