Biden administration to respond to Russian hacking, poisoning in ‘weeks not months’

The Biden administration is preparing to take action against Russia for actions including a massive hack of the federal government and the poisoning of a Russian opposition leader in “weeks, not months,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. 

“We have asked the intelligence community to do further work to sharpen the attribution that the previous administration made about precisely how the hack occurred, what the extent of the damage is, and what the scope and scale of the intrusion is, and we are still in the process of working through that now, but it will be weeks not months before we respond,” Psaki told reporters during the daily press briefing.

Psaki’s comments came after she was questioned about a story from The Washington Post, published Tuesday, that reported the Biden administration would soon sanction Russia for what has become known as the SolarWinds hack and for the poisoning of Russian leader Alexei Navalny.

Psaki did not directly confirm the sanctions, noting that she was “not going to get ahead of the conclusion” of efforts by the administration to investigate the extent of the SolarWinds breach, but said that a response would be forthcoming. 

“Of course we want to focus on giving our team the time they need to take additional steps to fine tune the attribution, and we reserve the right to respond at the time and a manner of our choosing,” Psaki said. 

Intelligence officials announced in January that Russia was “likely” behind the incident that has become known as the SolarWinds breach, which compromised at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector groups for over a year before discovery. 

The agencies included the Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury departments. The Post reported Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the NASA were also compromised. 

As part of the pushback against Russia, the Post reported that the Biden administration will issue a much stronger statement making it clear that Russia was behind the espionage attack, which utilized software from IT group SolarWinds, and likely other groups, to infiltrate critical networks. 

The statement will be part of wider efforts, including developing what the Post described as “defensive measures” to protect the U.S. against a future similar espionage effort. 

Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, outlined some of these upcoming actions last week, telling reporters that President Biden would soon roll out an “executive action” around the breach. 

“We are working on close to about a dozen things, likely eight … to be part of an upcoming executive action to address the gaps we’ve identified in our review of this incident,” Neuberger, who is leading the federal government’s investigation into the SolarWinds breach, said.

The White House did not respond to The Hill’s request for further comment on the sanctions. 

Biden has been vocal about the need to respond to aggressive cyber actions by foreign adversaries, including during his address at the virtual Munich Security Conference last week in which he called for creating “rules” for actions in cyberspace. 

“Addressing Russian recklessness and hacking into computer networks in the United States and across Europe and the world has become critical to protecting our collective security,” Biden said. 

Biden discussed both the SolarWinds breach and the poisoning of Navalny during his first call in office with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has tasked the intelligence community with completing an assessment on the full scope of the SolarWinds breach. 

Congress has also set its sights on responding to the breach, with the Senate Intelligence Committee scheduled to hold a hearing on the SolarWinds breach featuring the company’s CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna on Tuesday afternoon. The House Homeland Security and House Oversight and Reform panels will hold a joint hearing on the same issue on Friday.

Tags cyberattacks Jen Psaki Joe Biden Russia SolarWinds hack Vladimir Putin

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