On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he believes the likeliest scenario through which the U.S. ends up in armed conflict with another major military power would be in response to a cyber attack.
“You know, we’ve seen how cyber threats, including ransomware attacks, increasingly are able to cause damage and disruption to the real world,” Biden said during remarks at the National Counterterrorism Center in
McLean, Va. “I can’t guarantee this, and you’re as informed as I am, but I think it’s more likely we’re going to end up — well, if we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence.”
Biden added that the capabilities of cyber actors and their ability to disrupt real-world targets are “increasing exponentially.”
Biden’s cyber remarks come after major hacks affecting U.S. infrastructure and government agencies, such as the SolarWinds hack, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and a hack of Microsoft Exchange email service this year. The Biden administration has blamed Russia for the SolarWinds hack and China for the Microsoft Exchange hack.
Following his remarks specifically about a cyber attack, Biden highlighted the risks posed to the U.S. by the growing military capabilities of both Russia and China — two nations considered to be major military powers at peer or near-peer status with the U.S.
Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “sitting on top of an economy that has nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else.” Biden said Putin “knows he’s in real trouble, which makes him even more dangerous, in my view. “
Biden then said under leader Xi Jinping, China is “deadly earnest about becoming the most powerful military force in the world, as well as the largest — the most prominent economy in the world by the mid-40s — the 2040s.”
“We better figure out how we’re going to keep pace without exacerbating and moving us in a position where we increase the hostilities unnecessarily,” Biden said.
Biden’s remarks came ahead of a Wednesday announcement of a presidential national security memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop cybersecurity performance goals for critical infrastructure.
The Wednesday memo also calls for the establishment of the President’s Industrial Control System Cybersecurity Initiative (ICS), a voluntary, collaborative effort between the federal government and the critical infrastructure community to collaboratively share information about potential cyber vulnerabilities.