Top Biden cyber official: SolarWinds breach could turn from spying to destruction ‘in a moment’

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WASHINGTON — President Biden’s top cybersecurity adviser says the “likely Russian” hackers who breached the popular IT monitoring software SolarWinds could use their access to “degrade” or “destroy” networks rather than simply spy on them “in a moment.”

Speaking Wednesday evening during a digital panel discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser on cyber and emerging technology on the National Security Council, said, “Even if it’s routine espionage,” the action is “still counter to our interests” and requires the U.S. government to find ways to force the perpetrators to reconsider their actions in the future. “How do we change our attackers’ calculus to make them think about those hacks they may be doing?”

Neuberger’s remarks come amid an ongoing debate about whether the breach was an act of digital warfare or a carefully crafted espionage campaign, and on the heels of an essay by Marcus Willett, a former senior cyber adviser to Britain’s digital intelligence agency, GCHQ, urging the U.S. to be cautious about retaliating. Willett deemed SolarWinds a “surgical” espionage campaign on the part of the Russians, rather than a reckless and destructive effort.

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