White House will ‘sharpen the attribution’ with Russia after SolarWinds hack


​The White House said Tuesday that it was working to “sharpen the attribution” into Russia’s alleged involvement in the massive SolarWinds hack that infiltrated scores of federal government agencies and private companies before making a determination on whether to slap sanctions on Moscow.

“We have asked the intelligence community to do further work to sharpen the attribution that the previous administration made about precisely how the hack occurred, what the extent of the damage is and what the scope and scale of the intrusion is. And we’re still in the process of working that through now,” press secretary Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s White House briefing.

“But it will be weeks not months before we respond,” she said.

“We want to focus on giving our team the time they need to take additional steps to fine tune the attribution, and we reserve the right to respond in a timely manner of our choosing,” Psaki added.

She was asked the question after a Washington Post report that said the Biden administration was preparing sanctions to punish Russia for the cyberattack, as well as the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has since been imprisoned in Russia.

But the report said the Biden White House is first trying to go beyond connecting Moscow to the hack than former President Donald Trump’s administration’s assessment that Russia was “likely” behind the intrusion.

President Joe Biden said the massive SolarWinds hack “fits Russia’s long history of reckless and disruptive cyber activities.”
President Joe Biden said the massive SolarWinds hack “fits Russia’s long history of reckless and disruptive cyber activities.”
AP/Evan Vucci; Bloomberg via Getty Images (inset)

A statement from the FBI, the office of National Intelligence and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on Jan. 5 concluded that the SolarWinds hack was the work for an “Advanced Persistent Threat actor, likely Russian in origin.”

In a Twitter posting in December, shortly after the cyber attack, Trump downplayed Russia’s involvement.

“The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality,” Trump tweeted. “Everything is well under control,” and “Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!)”  

A few days after Trump’s comments, President Biden said the US cannot allow the attack to go “unanswered.”

“That means making clear publicly who was responsible for this attack and taking meaningful steps to hold them to account,” he said. “Initial indications, including from Secretary Pompeo and Attorney General Barr suggest that Russia is responsible for this breach. It certainly fits Russia’s long history of reckless and disruptive cyber activities.”

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, in an interview Sunday on CBS said the administration would respond within “weeks, not months” to the suspected Russian hack.

SolarWinds Corp. headquarters in Austin, Texas.
SolarWinds Corp. headquarters in Austin, Texas.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“We’re in the process of working through that, and we will ensure that Russia understands where the United States draws the line on this kind of activity,” Sullivan said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“First of all, we have asked the intelligence community to do further work to sharpen the attribution that the last administration made about precisely how this hack occurred, what the extent of the damage is, what the scope and scale of the intrusion is, and we are in the process of working through that now,” he said.

Sullivan said the response would include  “a mix of tools seen and unseen” that go beyond sanctions.​

And last week, Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, warned that the danger of another hack still exists but said a task force is still trying to determine the extent of the damage and trying to determine who was behind it.​

“This is a sophisticated actor who did their best to hide their tracks,” ​she said. “We believe it took them months to plan and execute this compromise. It will take us some time to uncover this layer by layer.”

​The Kremlin has denied any involvement. ​​

The breach exposed personal data at scores of federal agencies, including the Treasury Department and the Justice Department, as well as hundreds of private companies. ​​

In an interview with CBS, Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, says his administration will take "weeks, not months" to respond to Russia’s SolarWinds hack.
In an interview with CBS, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, says his administration will take “weeks, not months” to respond to Russia’s SolarWinds hack.
AP/Evan Vucci

The hackers piggybacked on the SolarWinds software to install malicious ​software when the companies and agencies updated their security on their servers. ​

With Post wires​

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