Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Tuesday urged President Biden to use his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to strongly push back against recent Russia-linked cyberattacks.
Biden is slated to meet with Putin in Switzerland on Wednesday in the first in-person meeting between the leaders since Biden took office, and White House officials have said cybersecurity concerns are on the agenda.
It will also be the first meeting between Biden and Putin since the discovery of the SolarWinds hack in December, which U.S. intelligence agencies assessed was likely carried out by Russian government-backed hackers.
Nine federal agencies and around 100 private sector groups were compromised by the hack, which was ongoing for most of 2020. Biden announced a sweeping set of sanctions against Russia earlier this year in retaliation.
“We can’t afford another incident like SolarWinds,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) tweeted Tuesday. “It’s my hope that in tomorrow’s meeting, @POTUS brings up December’s cyberattack and makes clear that any exploitation of compromised networks to produce harmful effects will prompt an appropriate and proportional response.”
In addition, recent major ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline and JBS USA that caused disruptions to critical operations were linked by the FBI back to hacking groups likely based in Russia.
While the groups were assessed to not be government-backed, U.S. officials have expressed strong concerns about Russia allowing malicious hackers to operate within its borders.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent Biden a letter Tuesday underlining the need to bring up Russian aggression in cyberspace during his meeting with Putin, and to be clear that the U.S. would use a range of measures to respond to further cyberattacks.
“I urge you to make it clear to Putin that the United States will meet any future cyberattack from Russia with a strong response,” Rubio wrote. “I urge you to use this meeting to inform Putin that the United States will use these capabilities, and others, to mitigate the effect of future attacks.”
Rubio noted that he will soon introduce legislation to hit back against foreign governments harboring cyber criminals and to respond to ransomware attacks.
“Only a strong and clear message will deter Putin from engaging in behavior detrimental to a stable U.S.-Russia relationship,” Rubio wrote.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday that he was “confident” that Biden would address concerns including the cyberattacks.
“I’m confident he will press Putin to answer for Russia’s many transgressions, including demanding accountability against cybercriminals who target U.S. infrastructure and economy, deterring further Russian meddling in our elections, supporting press freedoms within Russia, and addressing the Kremlin’s aggression toward Ukraine,” Schiff said.
“I stand ready to work with the administration on these critical issues,” he added.
Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the co-chairs and founders of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, wrote a CNN op-ed published Tuesday stressing the need for Biden to pressure Putin to stop sheltering cyber criminals and make ransomware a priority topic.
“Biden’s message must be simple and straightforward,” the lawmakers wrote. “If cybercriminals continue to extort our schools, hospitals, food supply chains and energy systems, we will find them. And if countries continue to shelter rogue hackers, they will pay the price.”
Biden and his administration have been clear about their concerns around Russia’s malicious actions in cyberspace, and have stressed that these will come up during the meeting with Putin.
“This will certainly be a topic of discussion, that harboring criminal entities that are intending to do harm, that are doing harm to the critical infrastructure in the United States, is not acceptable,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House earlier this month. “We are not going to stand by that, we will raise that, and we are not going to take options off the table.”