WASHINGTON — The general who leads U.S. efforts to thwart foreign-based cyberattacks, and punish those responsible, says he’s mounting a “surge” to fight incursions that have debilitated government agencies and companies responsible for critical infrastructure.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Gen. Paul Nakasone broadly described “an intense focus” by government specialists to better find and share information about cyberattacks and “impose costs when necessary.” Those costs include publicly linking adversarial countries to high-profile attacks and exposing the means by which those attacks were carried out, he said.
“Even six months ago, we probably would have said, ‘Ransomware, that’s criminal activity,’” Nakasone said. “But if it has an impact on a nation, like we’ve seen, then it becomes a national security issue. If it’s a national security issue, then certainly we’re going to surge toward it.”
A devastating wave of cyberattacks has compromised sensitive government records and at times led to the shutdown of the operations of energy companies, hospitals and schools. The SolarWinds espionage campaign exposed the emails of 80% of the email accounts used by the U.S. attorneys' offices in New York and several other departments. A separate hack of Microsoft email server software affected potentially tens of thousands.
Nakasone jointly leads the National Security Agency, the chief intelligence agency tracking foreign communications, and U.S. Cyber Command, the Pentagon’s force for offensive attacks. While the two organizations work mostly in secret, they have been part of a Biden administration effort to publicly identify the people and countries behind attacks. The White House has linked the SolarWinds breach to Russian intelligence and the Microsoft hack to China.
President Joe Biden directly pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin in July to take action against cyber attackers, telling reporters, “We expect them to act if we give them enough information to act on who that is.”
FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said “there is no indication” yet that Russia had acted to crack down on ransomware. Abbate, Nakasone and other U.S. government officials spoke Tuesday at the Intelligence & National Security Summit.
Nakasone also oversees efforts to track and stop foreign efforts to influence U.S. elections. He disclosed earlier this year that U.S. Cyber Command conducted more than two dozen operations intended to thwart interference in last year's presidential election.
Biden said in July that Russia had already begun efforts to spread misinformation regarding the 2022 midterm elections, calling them a “pure violation of our sovereignty.” Nakasone declined to detail allegations against Russia, saying intelligence agencies were “generating insights which will move to sharing information in the not too distant future.”
U.S. agencies are not aware of any specific threats related to the California gubernatorial recall election that concludes Tuesday, Nakasone said.