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Intel Chairman Rubio says ‘America must retaliate’ after massive cyberattack

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (Miami Herald/TNS)

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, vowed that the U.S. will retaliate for a massive, ongoing cyberattack that has compromised private companies and government agencies — including the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

On Friday, Rubio tweeted “the methods used to carry out the cyberhack are consistent with Russian cyber operations,” though he stopped short of directly accusing the Russians.

“But it’s crucial we have complete certainty about who is behind this,” Rubio said. “We can’t afford to be wrong on attribution, because America must retaliate, and not just with sanctions.”

Rubio’s comments come as President Donald Trump, who has shied away from blaming Russia for anything — cyberattacks or election interference — has not commented on the breach. The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday that the attacks began in March and are “a patient, well-resourced and focused adversary.”

On Friday, Rubio’s office said the senator has been in contact with administration officials about the attack, which Rubio says is ongoing.

Hackers breached SolarWinds, a software vendor, and disguised their attacks through software updates issued by the company, which works with thousands of government agencies and private companies.

But the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, said Thursday that the attack is even larger in scope and has compromised online networks that never accessed software that was used to facilitate the attacks.

“CISA has determined that this threat poses a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations,” the alert issued by the agency said. “CISA expects that removing this threat actor from compromised environments will be highly complex and challenging for organizations.”

CISA’s former director, Chris Krebs, was fired by Trump via tweet last month after he rejected the president’s unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

During a Thursday night interview on Fox News, Rubio said the cyberattack comes close to an act of war.

“You saw the bulletin tonight, it went out, it’s a grave risk to federal, to state, to local governments, to critical infrastructure, to the private sector,” Rubio said. “And as far as attribution, when you attribute it to somebody, you have got to know it for sure because it’s a very — this is almost, I would argue — an act of war, absolutely.”

Multiple federal agencies, including the Commerce Department and Energy Department, have publicly acknowledged that hackers were able to access some of their networks. On Thursday, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons stockpile, said the attack was isolated to the agency’s business networks and any compromised software was disconnected from the Department of Energy’s network.

Microsoft, one of the world’s largest software companies, said Thursday that more than 40 of its customers were the target of sophisticated cyberattacks.

“As much as anything, this attack provides a moment of reckoning,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post Thursday. “It requires that we look with clear eyes at the growing threats we face and commit to more effective and collaborative leadership by the government and the tech sector in the United States to spearhead a strong and coordinated global cybersecurity response.”

Multiple cybersecurity experts have accused Russia of being behind the attack. The Russian government has denied involvement.

On Friday, the House of Representatives was briefed on the attack. While some Democrats and Republicans complained that the classified briefing didn’t supply them with new details, they agreed that the attack is serious.

“The situation is developing, but the more I learn this could be our modern day, cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor,” Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow tweeted after Friday’s briefing.

Rubio called the attack “unprecedented” and said “this wasn’t two guys in a basement in North Korea somewhere looking to steal some crypto currency.”

“The full extent of the cyberhack is still unknown but we already know it is unprecedented in scale and scope, in all likelihood ongoing and at a level of sophistication only a few nation-states are capable of,” Rubio said.

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© 2020 Miami Herald

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