Lloyd Austin: Defense Secretary says US has ‘offensive options’ to respond to cyberattacks
“We have the ability to conduct offensive operations. We also have the ability to defend ourselves, and we always try to defend forward from a military point of view,” said Austin Barbara Starr in an exclusive interview on Friday.
“I have a number of offensive options,” Austin said, despite not referring specifically to the most recent attack. “We will always maintain credible and effective options.”
A more in-depth version of Austin’s interview will air on CNN Monday.
Austin’s comments come after the hackers behind one of the worst data breaches ever to hit the U.S. government launched a new global cyberattack against more than 150 government agencies, think tanks, and other organizations, according to Microsoft.
The group that Microsoft calls “Nobelium” targeted 3,000 email accounts with various organizations this week – most of them in the United States, the company said in a blog post on Thursday.
It believes the hackers are part of the same Russian group behind the devastating attack on SolarWinds – a software maker – that targeted at least nine US federal agencies and 100 companies last year.
The National Security Council of the White House and the US Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security (CISA) are aware of the incident, according to spokesmen. CISA is “working with the FBI and USAID to better understand the extent of the compromise and to help potential victims,” said a spokesman.
When asked about the United States’ ability to stay ahead of other cyberattacks, Austin Starr said Friday that it was his responsibility to bring offensive options to President Joe Biden.
“My job is to give the President the opportunity to choose when to respond. We want him to have good options to choose from. And that’s what the Department of Defense is focusing on, ”Austin said.
Cybersecurity was a top concern of the US government following revelations that hackers injected malicious code into a tool released by SolarWinds. A ransomware attack that shut down one of America’s most important energy infrastructures – the Colonial Pipeline – earlier this month only heightened the feeling of alarm. This attack was carried out by a criminal organization originating in Russia, according to the FBI.
Austin doubled the US government’s focus on the cyber battlefield on Friday.
“The cyberdomain is really important, it is part of the battlefield, it is part of the architecture, something that we not only have to pay attention to but that we have to be dominant in,” he said.
“I am confident that we can continue to do what it takes to not only compete, but also to stay ahead in this area in this area.”
CNN’s Jill Disis, Zahid Mahmood, Michael Conte and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.