Following President Joe Biden’s lecture on Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin that cyber attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure are off limits, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday said he will update Congress on attempts by Russia and China and criminal organizations within those countries whether they are using cyber means to infiltrate critical sectors of the nation’s economy.
During a budget hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee to review the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2022 budget request, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) highlighted Biden’s message to Putin and told Mayorkas that an update to the committee from him on if “ the Russians tried to penetrate, have the Chinse tried to penetrate, have ransomware groups emanating from those countries tried to penetrate” networks of U.S. critical infrastructure entities would show “real accountability for these nation-states that are allowing these groups to muck around with the average American’s stuff, the stuff we need, so I make that request.”
Mayorkas replied that “We will indeed update you in a couple months as you’ve requested with respect to the cybersecurity challenge and the 16 sectors specifically.”
Biden met with Putin in Geneva, Switzerland following meetings with European and NATO officials dating back to last week. In a press conference following the meeting with his Russian counterpart, Biden said “cyber and cybersecurity” were two areas of lengthy discussion and “I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack—period—by cyber or any other means.”
Biden said he gave Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure sectors, including energy and water, that both countries should respect. Later during the press event, Biden said he brought up the ransomware attack on U.S. pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline the criminal group DarkSide, which is believed to operate out of Russia but is not directly linked to that country’s government.
“For example, when I talked about the pipeline, that cyber hit for $5 million, that ransomware hit in the United States, I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?’ He said it would matter,” Biden said.
Cyber-attacks on each countries’ critical functions are “about mutual self-interest,” Biden said.
No agreement was signed between Biden and Putin and the U.S. president said time will tell “whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order,” Biden said. He put the timeframe at six months to a year.
Asked by a reporter about potential consequences for Russia if U.S. critical infrastructure is interfered with, Biden said he “pointed out to [Putin] that we have significant cyber capability. And he knows it. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it’s significant. And if, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber. He knows.”