The US may retaliate against Russia for the large-scale hacking of American government agencies and corporations in 2020. The Russian hackers secretly hacked Texas-based SolarWind’s systems that left at least 18,000 of the firm’s customers affected, including several federal agencies and big private companies, like Microsoft and Cisco. The cyberattack went undetected for several months and was first noticed by a private cybersecurity firm, FireEye, when it found out that its own systems were hacked.
Whether the attack on the SolarWinds’ Orion network management system was a cyberattack or an espionage act is still not clear. As per the American officials, evidence suggests that the SolarWinds attack’s intention was merely data theft, but several senior officials suspect that Russians might have had much broader motives.
The Russian hackers also broke into the Democratic National Committee and state voter-registration systems in 2016, but the methods used in SolarWinds hacking were far more sophisticated. They inserted malicious codes into the company’s software updates, which ushered them deep into about 18,000 systems as the company unwittingly sent out software updates to its customers, including the hacked code.
Now that the attacks have been discovered and attributed to Russia, it’s still unclear how best to deter Russia from conducting more attacks. Traditional sanctions alone do not sufficiently raise the cost to deter power like Russia and China, and too strong a response risks escalation.
According to some unnamed government officials, some responses could come before the end of March. Jen Psaki, The White House press secretary, confirmed that the government plans to take “a mix of actions seen and unseen.” Although the specifics have not been revealed yet, it is most likely to constitute actions within Russian government networks, with an aim to send a clear “signal” to the Russian government.
The US government also plans to impose more economic sanctions on Russia, as President Joe Biden is likely to sign an executive order with the aim to beef up the security of US government networks against future cyber-attacks.
While American officials allege that Russian hackers are behind the massive cyberattack that shook various US federal government entities and companies, last year; Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations, citing that Washington has provided no evidence to back up its claims.
The full extent of the attack is still unfolding, but the evidence provided by forensic analysis is most consistent with espionage.