Politics Senior Biden cyber nominees sail through Senate hearing
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"We need to find what the red lines are, this continues to escalate, and we can't allow it to escalate," CrowdStrike President and Chief Security Officer Shawn Henry told Newsweek. "It's the exact reason we had nuclear arms talks, because we realize things couldn't continue to escalate."Such an inadvertent conflagration becomes especially dangerous in the absence of "red lines" not yet established among nations and non-state actors, who are also quickly honing potentially devastating cyber capabilities.
The nominees selected by President Biden to fill the top two cybersecurity positions in the federal government faced little opposition during their Senate nomination hearing on Thursday amid growing bipartisan concerns about increasing cyber threats.
Former National Security Agency (NSA) Deputy Director Chris Inglis, nominated by Biden to fill the new position of national cyber director at the White House, and Jen Easterly, nominated to lead the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), stressed to senators Thursday the need to confront mounting cyberattacks.
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Though using the military to take action against cyber criminals would not be without precedent, it’s controversial in legal circles.Though using the military to take action against criminals would not be without precedent, it’s controversial in legal circles, and any American cyber action against targets in Russia would risk retaliation. But officials say criminal ransomware attacks from abroad, once a nuisance, have become a major source of economic damage, as the disruption of gasoline and meat supplies in recent weeks has illustrated.
"It will not stop of its own accord, it is not a fire raging across the prairie that once it's consumed the fuel it will simply stop and we can simply wait for that moment, we must stand in," Inglis testified to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on cyber threats. "It will never go away completely, but we can bring it down, we can bring it to heel significantly."
Easterly, who previously served as the deputy for counterterrorism at the NSA, stressed the need to "anticipate the unimaginable" when combating threats in cyberspace.
"Even as we contend with the billions of daily intrusions against our networks by malicious actors, I believe that as a nation, we remain at great risk of a catastrophic cyberattack," Easterly testified.
Hit by a ransomware attack? Here's who to call
The list of high-profile ransomware attacks grows longer and more alarming by the week, impacting everything from gas pipelines and meat supplies to ferries. Those companies and agencies that get hit must scramble to protect their systems and a tough decision on whether to pay hackers to remove the disruption. © Shutterstock In the face of that situation, affected companies may rush to reach out to their IT teams, police, crisis PR, lawyers and law enforcement. But, frequently, one of the first calls is to their insurance provider.
The joint nomination hearing for both Inglis and Easterly was held amid a multitude of major cyberattacks in recent weeks and months that have hit critical U.S. organizations.
The SolarWinds hack, discovered in December, allowed Russian hackers to compromise nine federal agencies and at least 100 private sector groups to carry out espionage, while vulnerabilities found by Microsoft in March its Exchange Server email application allowed potentially thousands more groups to be compromised.
Hackers have increasingly used ransomware attacks in attempts to exploit critical groups, including the attack last month on Colonial Pipeline, which provides 45 percent of the East Coast's fuel and was forced to shut down the entire pipeline for a week due to a ransomware attack.
The company paid the hackers, who the FBI assessed were based in Russia, the equivalent of $4.4 million in Bitcoin, the majority of which was recovered by the Justice Department earlier this week.
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JBS USA, the nation's largest beef producer, was hit by a similar ransomware attack last week, and Wednesday that it had paid the hackers the equivalent of $11 million to decrypt its systems.
In light of the attacks, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have taken an increasingly hard look at strengthening the nation's cybersecurity, and have stressed the need to fill both the national cyber director and CISA director positions.
Inglis's potential position was established by the most recent National Defense Authorization Act after a similar role was eliminated under the Trump administration. CISA meanwhile has been without Senate-confirmed leadership since former CISA Director Christopher Krebs was fired by President Trump in November for attempts to push back against election disinformation and misinformation.
When questioned about how she would address these issues if confirmed, Easterly testified that she planned to take a "very hard look" at CISA's work in the disinformation and misinformation space, but that she wanted to ensure the agency remained "nonpartisan."
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AFGHANISTAN IN REARVIEW MIRROR: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is in Washington today to meet with President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ahead of next week’s summit of alliance leaders in Brussels. © Provided by Washington Examiner DOD header 2020 With the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan expected to pass the halfway mark this week (the U.S. Central Command will release a new, updated percentage tomorrow), the pace the troop exit is ahead of schedule and on track to be completed well before the Sept. 11 deadline set by Biden.
While both Inglis and Easterly faced tough technical questions about their plans for the roles, no members of the committee on Thursday expressed opposition to the nominations.
Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) testified that they were both "highly qualified nominees, who each bring a wealth of private sector and government experience," expressing support for the nominations. Committee ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also did not indicate he would block the nominations.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who introduced Inglis to the committee on Thursday, told reporters ahead of the hearing that he expected the Senate to easily confirm both in their positions.
"I haven't heard of any opposition, we will find out at the hearing, but my sense is that these are very nonpartisan nominations," King told reporters. "Ideally I'd like to see this done in the month of June so that both of these people can be in these important jobs as soon as possible before July...I know that they want to move this as fast as possible."
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will move fast on the nominations, with committee votes scheduled on both Inglis and Easterly's nominations next week.
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