White House Names Official to Lead Probe of Expansive Hack
By Debra Kaufman
February 12, 2021
In December, suspected Russian hackers compromised SolarWinds Corp., a small software vendor, leveraging it to infiltrate the U.S. departments of Commerce, State and Treasury, as well as numerous private companies. An in-depth investigation revealed that the hack’s scope was larger than first known, with about one-third of those hacked having no direct connection with SolarWinds. Now, the Biden administration has selected White House National Security Council senior official Anne Neuberger to lead the response.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to NSC spokeswoman Emily Horne, Neuberger “has been leading the handling of the hack fallout since day one of the Biden administration.”
In her role, Neuberger “is focused on directing federal agencies compromised in the hack toward specific remediation solutions and identifying issues in how the government has responded” as well as working with the private sector. She is also “focused on launching a study of the SolarWinds breach to learn lessons and to prevent such incidents in the future.”
Neuberger had been heading the National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate and also led NSA’s Russia Small Group, which “was tasked with preventing Russian interference in the 2018 midterm election.” She “joined the National Security Council to fill the newly formed role of deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology.”
Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) “welcomed news of Neuberger’s selection,” having already “sent a letter to various federal cybersecurity leaders” asking for such a leader. They also “expressed agitation with the lack of details provided thus far to Congress about the hack.” Now, with Neuberger in place, Warner and Rubio wrote that the committee “looks forward to getting regular briefings [from her] and working with her to ensure we fully confront and mitigate this incident as quickly as possible.”
In an interview with New York Times cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth, NPR reports that the hack, first discovered in December 2020, had been ongoing since March that year and possibly earlier. Perlroth stated that, “the fact that the breach went undetected for so long means that the hackers likely planted ‘back door’ code, which would allow them to re-enter the systems at a later date.”
Her just-published book “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends,” describes how the U.S. went from having “the world’s strongest cyber arsenal to becoming so vulnerable to attack.” She added that the SolarWinds attack also hit the Department of Homeland Security as well as Treasury, State, Justice, Energy, some nuclear labs and the Centers for Disease Control. She cites “part of the problem” is that “the U.S. has spent more energy on hacking other countries than on defending itself.”
The SolarWinds hack, she added, was “one of the biggest intelligence failures of our time.” “We are one of the most advanced, if not the most advanced cyber superpower in the world, but we are also its most targeted and its most vulnerable,” she said.