Blinken vows renewed focus on emerging tech after hack


Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday vowed that the U.S. will prioritize positioning itself as a global leader on technology to shore up its national security defenses, particularly following the recent breach of the federal government known as the SolarWinds hack.

“We will secure our leadership in technology,” Blinken said as part of his first major speech as the country’s top diplomat. “A global technology revolution is now underway. The world’s leading powers are racing to develop and deploy new technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing that could shape everything about our lives, from where we get energy, to how we do our jobs, to how wars are fought.”

Blinken stressed that it was “critical” for the U.S. to maintain its leadership in the science and technology fields in order to “protect your privacy, make the world safer and healthier, and make democracies more resilient.”

The nation’s top diplomat vowed to work with allied nations to establish “guardrails against misuse” of emerging technologies, particularly following the SolarWinds hack. 

The incident, first discovered in December, involved hackers exploiting software from IT group SolarWinds to compromise up to 18,000 of its customers, including at least nine federal agencies such as the State Department. U.S. intelligence officials assessed in January that the hackers were “likely” Russian. 

“We must strengthen our tech defenses and deterrence. We need only look at SolarWinds, a major hack of U.S. government networks last year, to see how determined our adversaries are to use technology to undermine us,” Blinken said. “Today, safeguarding our national security means investing in our technological capabilities and elevating this issue in our diplomacy and our defense. We will do both.”

Blinken’s comments were part of a wider speech in which he outlined his priorities as secretary, and described the relationship between the U.S. and China as the biggest challenge of the century, citing concerns around China’s competitiveness in the technological space, among other issues. 

The speech also came as the Biden administration continues to weigh its response to the SolarWinds hack, which White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last month would come in “weeks, not months.’

The Washington Post reported in February that President Biden plans to impose sanctions on Russia for the hack. While sanctions have not yet been levied against Russia for the cyber espionage incident, ongoing for almost a year prior to discovery, the administration announced a range of actions including sanctions against Russia earlier this week for the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday teased the administration’s response to the SolarWinds hack while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling senators that “sequenced operations” had been effective in the wake of past cyber operations.

“It’s everything from not just the law enforcement piece, it’s foreign partner participation, it’s private sector hardening, it’s Treasury sanctions, it’s a whole host of things, but when you put them together sequenced, well I would never suggest to you … that that is somehow going to eliminate the problem, it does push the adversary back and slow their progress,” Wray testified. “This is going to be a long, hard slog.”

Tags Antony Blinken China Christopher Wray cybersecurity Jen Psaki Joe Biden Russia State Deparment

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