Trump Finally Addresses Hack — Blames China, Downplays Extent

Donald Trump has been criticized for failing to publicly address the massive hack into U.S. systems that took place this year. Finally, days after the news, after bipartisan calls for a response, he has spoken up — only to suggest that the attack is far less serious than experts say, and to blame China.

Trump blames China for hack experts believe came from Russia
[Photo by Mikhail MetzelTASS via Getty Images]

Intelligence and cybersecurity experts say that the attack is consistent with techniques associated with Russian espionage. Trump has been criticized throughout his presidency for an unwillingness to criticize Russia or Vladimir Putin. Now, he’s responding to this attack by claiming that it’s not as bad as reported — and by blaming China.

The hack hit systems including all branches of the U.S. military and Homeland Security among dozens of others, and the attackers were able to siphon information for months before the invasion was uncovered.

Writing for Slate, cybersecurity expert Josephine Wolff says that the hack is beyond anything seen before, and that one reason is that malware delivered in a compromised update means that even as the nation’s security experts investigate the attack, system breaches will continue, and that the compromised updates have been used to reach even more targets.

This means that the set of potential victims is not just (just!) the 18,000 SolarWinds customers who may have downloaded the compromised updates, but also all of those 18,000 organizations’ customers, and potentially the clients of those second-order organizations as well—and so on. So when I say the SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign will last years, I don’t just mean, as I usually do, that figuring out liability and settling costs and carrying out investigations will take years (though that is certainly true here). The actual, active theft of information from protected networks due to this breach will last years.

Trump’s tweet is the first clear attempt from the president or his administration to let Russia off the hook, though — even in a briefing this week, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not deny that current intelligence suggests Russia is behind the attack. Others in government are also not joining Trump in making light of the breach. Marco Rubio, in particular, has called for retribution, and “not just sanctions.”

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