Biden Says Hack of U.S. Shows Trump Failed at Cybersecurity

President-elect Joe Biden lashed out at Donald Trump over a major hack of U.S. government agencies and companies, saying the president isn’t taking it seriously enough, while vowing to strengthen the nation’s cyberdefenses.

Biden blamed the Trump administration for having “failed to prioritize cybersecurity” during its four years in power. He also called on the president to clearly and publicly identify the culprit -- saying it’s widely believed to be Russia -- and take steps “to hold them to account.”

“This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch, when he wasn’t watching,” Biden said during a year-end news conference in Wilmington, Delaware. “Even if he does not take it seriously, I will.”

Biden Says Hack of U.S. Shows Trump Failed at Cybersecurity

The comments are Biden’s most extensive to date on the hack, which is said to have affected at least 200 organizations, including the Treasury and Commerce Departments. The cyberattack represents one of the most immediate challenges the new president will face upon taking office, along with the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden called cybersecurity one of the gravest threats facing the nation and said the issue should be treated the same as attacks undertaken using other “unconventional weapons.” He vowed to seek bipartisan support from Congress for his efforts after taking office Jan. 20.

Noting that Trump is still in office for almost another month, Biden said it’s the president’s job to lead the country through the crisis. Biden criticized Trump for refusing to identify a culprit and said the country was left unprepared after the White House downgraded or eliminated key government cybersecurity posts.

The president-elect suggested that his own knowledge of the attack was limited due to lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition, saying “the Defense Department won’t even brief us on many things.”

After his own cabinet secretaries suggested Russia was behind the hack, Trump tweeted that China was perhaps responsible and downplayed its significance, saying the situation was “well under control.”

“I see no evidence that it’s under control. I see none. Heard of none,” Biden said.

In making his case, Biden cited comments by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr, who both said the evidence points to Russia. Biden also promised the U.S. would respond to whoever was behind the attack once he becomes president, but declined to specify how.

“They can be assured we will respond and respond in kind,” Biden said.

Russia has denied having any role in the hack.

The incoming president said he could not guarantee that the U.S. government computer systems he will inherit will be fully secure by the time he takes office. Biden said that accomplishing that goal could cost “billions of dollars.”

The attack, which took place over several months starting this year, targeted updates in widely used software from Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds Corp.

The company sells technology products to entities including the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, the FBI, the U.S. military and most Fortune 500 companies, according to the company’s website and government data.

So far, a number of state governments, the city network in Austin, the U.S. nuclear weapons agency and software giant Microsoft Corp. have reportedly had their systems exposed by the attack.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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