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PD Editorial: Russia’s hack attack demands a reckoning

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Like its interference in America’s 2016 presidential election, Russia’s massive hack of government and business computer systems reported this month will have profound ramifications. President-elect Joe Biden should move cybersecurity to the top tier of his priority list.

In addition to grappling with the repercussions of this widespread data breach, the United States needs to stand against increasing Russian aggression — even of the nonmilitary kind. Sadly, that won’t happen while President Donald Trump still is in office.

Trump made that abundantly clear when, days after the hack was revealed, he finally took a break from his pity party over losing the election to focus briefly on this attack by a foreign adversary. He downplayed the attack, implicating China without offering any evidence and then pivoted quickly back to lying about the outcome of the election.

This global hack by Russia has reportedly been going on since at least March. Russian hackers compromised a widely used business software app called Orion by SolarWinds. By integrating malware into that trusted program’s update mechanism, they were able to install backdoor access to thousands of computer systems used by government agencies, private corporations and other institutions — and they have been utilizing that access for months, undetected.

The hack compromised important systems in agencies across the government. The Departments of Commerce, Treasury, Homeland Security and Energy were infiltrated. Those agencies will need to determine just how compromised their systems are, what data was stolen and to what use it could be to our adversaries.

Biden already faced a monumental task when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. Most immediately, he must deal with the twin crises of the pandemic and a deep economic recession. He also needs to rebuild a federal government gutted by four years of Trumpism and the United States’ shattered global reputation.

Now dealing with a cyberattack by Russia is on that overflowing plate.

It will be up to Biden to stand up to Russia and decide how to best respond to this attack. Trump isn’t going to do it. The lame duck president, who doesn’t hesitate to attack his staunchest allies if they cross him, has been strangely and consistently unwilling to even hear criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin — and often rushes to defend him even if it means countering the statements of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Russia’s actions call for a strong response that could take shape in any number of ways, such as economic sanctions, counterattacks on Russia’s computer networks or diplomatic repercussions. The U.S. was not the only target, so it’s possible that Biden will be able to mount an international response to this outrage.

Such a coordinated response would be appropriate. Russia has grown bolder since its illegal invasion of Crimea. From its attack on the 2016 American election to assassinations on foreign soil to this latest cyberattack, Russian aggression has gone mostly unchecked for four years — largely because of the absence of U.S. leadership.

Whether an attack comes on the battlefield or over the internet, Americans expect their president to stand up to foreign aggressors. The current officeholder has declined. That’s probably one reason why a new president is coming on Jan. 20.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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