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United States strives to strengthen nation’s cybersecurity after massive breach

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Shaken by a large-scale hack that may have exposed government and corporate secrets to Russia, U.S. officials are scrambling to bolster nations’ cyber defenses and acknowledge that an agency created two years ago to protect Americas networks and infrastructure lack the money, tools and authority to counter these sophisticated threats.

The flaw, which hijacked widely used software from Texas-based SolarWinds Inc., exposed the deep vulnerability of civilian government networks and the limitations of threat detection efforts.

It is also likely to trigger a wave of spending for technology modernization and cybersecurity.

This has really highlighted the investments we need to make in cybersecurity to have the visibility necessary to block these attacks in the future, said on Wednesday Anne Neuberger, the new Deputy National Security Advisor for Cybersecurity and Technologies. ’emergency.

The reaction reflects the seriousness of a hack that was not disclosed until December. The hackers, still unidentified but described by officials as likely Russian, had unhindered access to the data and emails of at least nine US government agencies and a hundred private companies, the extent of the compromise being still unknown. And while this incident appears to be aimed at stealing information, it has heightened fears that future hackers could damage critical infrastructure, like power grids or water systems.

President Joe Biden plans to issue an executive order in the near future that Neuberger says will include around eight measures designed to address the security gaps exposed by the hack. The administration also proposed a 30% increase in the budget of the United States Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Agency, or CISA, a little-known entity that is now under close scrutiny due to the breach of SolarWinds.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for expanding the size and role of the agency, a component of the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in November 2018 as US adversaries increasingly targeted civilian governments and corporate networks as well as critical infrastructure, such as the power grid which is increasingly vulnerable in a wired world.

Speaking at a recent cybersecurity hearing, Republican John Katko, a Republican from New York, urged his colleagues to “quickly find a legislative vehicle to give the ICAR the resources it needs to fully respond and protect us.

Bidens COVID-19 relief program called for an additional $ 690 billion for CISA, as well as providing the agency with $ 9 billion to modernize IT across government in partnership with the Service Administration generals.

This was taken out of the last version of the bill because some members saw no connection to the pandemic. But Representative Jim Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, said additional funding for CISA is likely to reappear with bipartisan support in upcoming legislation, possibly an infrastructure bill.

Our cyber infrastructure is just as important as our roads and bridges, said Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island, in an interview. It is important for our economy. Protecting human life is important and we need to make sure we have a modern and resilient cyber infrastructure.

CISA operates a threat detection system known as Einstein “which failed to detect the SolarWinds violation. Brandon Wales, acting director of CISA, said it was because the flaw was hidden in a legitimate software update from SolarWinds to its customers. After being able to identify malicious activity, the system was able to scan federal networks and identify some government victims. It was designed to work in concert with other security programs within agencies, he said.

Former CISA chief Christopher Krebs told the House Homeland Security Committee this month that the United States should increase its support for the agency, in part so that it can provide grants to state and local governments to improve their cybersecurity and accelerate IT modernization at the federal level. government, which is part of the Biden proposal.

Are we going to stop every attack? No, but we can take the most common risks and make the bad guys work even harder and limit their success, said Krebs, who was ousted by then President Donald Trump after the election and is now Co-owner of a consulting firm whose clients include SolarWinds.

The flaw was discovered in early December by private security firm FireEye, a source of concern for some officials.

It was quite alarming that we found this out through a private company instead of being able to detect it ourselves to begin with, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said during her January confirmation hearing.

Right after the hack was announced, the Treasury Department bypassed its normal competitive contracting process to hire private security firm CrowdStrike, according to U.S. contract records. The ministry declined to comment. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Said dozens of email accounts of senior agency officials had been hacked.

The Social Security Administration hired FireEye to perform an independent forensic analysis of its network logs. The agency had a backdoor code installed like other SolarWinds customers, but there was no indicator to suggest that we were being targeted or that a future attack was occurring beyond the initial software installation, spokesman Mark Hinkle said.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the hack highlighted several failures at the federal level, but not necessarily a lack of expertise among public sector employees. Still, I doubt we ever have all the capacity we need internally, he said.

New cybersecurity measures have been taken in recent months. In the Defense Policy Bill passed in January, lawmakers created a national cybersecurity director, replacing a White House post that was abolished under Trump, and granted the ICAR power to issue administrative assignments as part of its efforts to identify vulnerable systems. and notify operators.

The legislation also gave the CISA increased authority to search for threats in civilian government agency networks, which Langevin said they were previously only able to do when invited.

Concretely, that means they weren’t invited because no department or agency wants to sound bad, he said. So you know what was going on? Everyone was sticking their heads in the sand and hoping that the cyberthreats would go away.

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