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Secretary of State says Russia is 'clearly' behind federal agency hacks (updated)

Pompeo is the first in the administration to blame Russia.
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks on the ground of the White House December 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Secretary Pompeo gave a tour of the White House to his family and announced to the press that his son just got engaged.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong via Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|December 19, 2020 11:45 AM

The Trump administration is starting to point fingers after a slew of state-sponsored cyberattacks against US agencies in recent times. According to the Washington Post, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Mark Levin Show that Russia was “pretty clearly” behind the hacks. Pompeo said he couldn’t discuss much else while the attacks continued, but it’s a notable statement when leading officials have been silent until now.

Pompeo reiterated the attackers made a “significant effort” to slip hostile code into government and private systems using third-party software, referencing the compromised SolarWinds network tools that raised concerns at Microsoft and others.

President Trump hasn’t acknowledge the hacks or named culprits so far. He has historically been reluctant to accuse Russia of hacking campaigns, and at one point claimed that Russia had stopped cyberattacks despite evidence and contradictory remarks. Russia has denied involvement so far, but it typically maintains innocence regardless of proof.

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The Secretary of State’s public accusation could still be significant. It might rally support against Russian hacking and spur both agencies and companies to bolster their security. While there’s no guarantee the current White House will use sanctions or retaliatory cyberattacks, there might not be as much pressure to do so when there’s a conspicuous, collective response to the hacks.

Update 12/19 12:30PM ET: Trump has downplayed the hacks, claiming “everything is well under control” and suggesting it might have been China instead. He presented no evidence to support his claims.

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Secretary of State says Russia is 'clearly' behind federal agency hacks (updated)