Joe Biden took office in January in the wake of the SolarWinds attack, an unprecedented and potentially disastrous penetration of U.S. government computer systems by hackers believed to be directed by the Russian intelligence service, the SVR. The new American president promised to shore up the nation’s cyber defenses against foreign foes. As if on cue, hackers struck with two major ransomware attacks, closing the Colonial Pipeline, which provides about 100 million gallons of gas a day to the southeastern U.S., and halting production at all U.S. facilities of the world’s biggest beef producer, Brazil-based JBS. The events underscored the immense vulnerability of a trillion-dollar, internet-based economy for which security is an afterthought.
As the U.S. continues to prove vulnerable to ransomware attacks from shadowy groups believed to be operating out of Russia or other former Soviet bloc countries, those with experience in advising the White House on challenges from the region urge Biden to take the opportunity to send a message.
Most Americans seem to assume that a cyber attack, even by an avowed adversary like Russia or Iran, would be answered in kind—that the U.S. would cause an annoying power outage or a brief internet failure. But experts and former intelligence and cyber-security officials tell Newsweek that hackers linked to Russia have launched cyber attacks on the U.S. that have come frighteningly close to the red line: a digital incursion that would prompt a deadly real-life response.
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