White House Holds Urgent Daily Talks on Hacking Linked to Russia

White House Holds Urgent Daily Talks on Hacking Linked to Russia a hacking photo illustration showing computer screens, a hacker, and binary code (Roman Didkivskiy/Dreamstime)

Jennifer Jacobs Wednesday, 16 December 2020 09:10 PM

The White House has convened urgent meetings of officials across multiple agencies to address a breach of U.S. government computer systems attributed to Russia, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Trump administration is holding daily discussions on the hack that include representatives of the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency, according to the person.

U.S. government agencies were attacked as part of a global campaign orchestrated by hackers believed to be tied to the Russian government, according to U.S. officials. The hackers were reported to have installed a malicious vulnerability in software from Texas-based SolarWinds Corp., whose customers include top government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

It is unclear what information the hackers were after. No classified systems are believed to have been accessed, the person said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman had no immediate comment. The FBI is investigating and gathering intelligence to track down the responsible actors, national security officials said in a joint statement Wednesday night.

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien returned early from a trip to the Middle East and Europe this week to address the hack.

The Department of Defense said in a statement, to date, it had no evidence its information networks were compromised.

"We will continue to work with the whole-of-government effort to mitigate cyber threats to the nation," Vice Admiral Nancy Norton, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said in the statement.

In addition to the daily meetings, a separate U.S. cyber response group is investigating the scope of the breach, which involved the departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Homeland Security. That group meets every other day and is in regular communication, the person said.

Technology officials at various government agencies are providing information to investigators and coordinating the response, the official said. It is not clear how long the cleanup and investigative effort will take.

The White House convened officials to assess the hack under an Obama-era program, known as Presidential Policy Directive 41, that outlined how the federal government would respond to a cyber attack. The 2016 directive was designed to address incidents that had significant impact on an entity, national security or the economy that would require a unified government response and close coordination between the public and private sectors.

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