WASHINGTON (AP) – The general who leads US efforts to thwart foreign cyberattacks and punish those responsible says he is making a “surge” to combat attacks by government agencies and companies responsible for critical infrastructure have weakened.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, General Paul Nakasone generally described “an intense focus” on government specialists to better find and share information about cyberattacks and to “raise costs when necessary.” That cost includes publicly connecting rival countries with high-profile attacks and exposing the means by which those attacks were carried out, he said.
“Six months ago we would probably have said, ‘Ransomware, this is criminal activity,'” said Nakasone. “But when it affects a nation, as we have seen, it becomes a national security issue. If it is a national security issue, we will certainly address it. “
A devastating wave of cyberattacks has compromised sensitive government documents and temporarily shut down energy companies, hospitals and schools. SolarWinds’ espionage campaign exposed the emails of 80% of the email accounts used by the US law firms in New York and several other departments. A separate hack into Microsoft’s email server software potentially affected tens of thousands.
Nakasone jointly heads the National Security Agency, the main intelligence agency tracking foreign communications, and the US Cyber Command, the Pentagon’s force for offensive attacks. While the two organizations operate largely in secret, they were part of the Biden government’s efforts to publicly identify the people and countries behind the attacks. The White House has linked the SolarWinds violation to Russian intelligence and the Microsoft hack to China.
President Joe Biden directly urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action against cyber attackers in July, telling reporters, “We expect them to act if we give them enough information to act on who it is.”
FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said there was no evidence yet that Russia had taken action against ransomware. Abbate, Nakasone and other US government officials spoke at the Intelligence and National Security Summit Tuesday.
Nakasone is also overseeing efforts to prosecute and stop foreign efforts to influence the US election. Earlier this year, he announced that US Cyber Command had conducted more than two dozen operations to prevent interference in last year’s presidential election.
Biden said in July that Russia has already started spreading misinformation about the 2022 midterm elections, calling it “a sheer violation of our sovereignty”. Nakasone declined to elaborate on the allegations against Russia, saying intelligence services would “generate insights that will lead to information sharing in the not-too-distant future.”
US authorities are not aware of any specific threats related to the gubernatorial election in California, which ends on Tuesday, said Nakasone.