Federal officials issued an urgent warning Thursday that hackers who U.S. intelligence agencies believe are working for the Kremlin used a wide variety of tools to penetrate government systems, and said that the cyberoffensive was “a grave risk to the federal government,” reports the New York Times. The discovery suggests that the scope of the hacking, which appears to extend beyond nuclear laboratories and Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department, complicates the challenge for federal investigators as they try to assess the damage and understand what has been stolen. After the statement from the Department of Homeland Security, President-elect Joe Biden warned that his administration would impose “substantial costs” on those responsible.
“A good defense isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place,” Biden said, adding, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyberassaults on our nation.” President Donald Trump has yet to say anything about the attack. Microsoft said it had identified 40 companies, government agencies and think tanks that the suspected Russian hackers had infiltrated. Nearly half are private technology firms, many of them cybersecurity firms, like FireEye, that are supposed to be securing vast sections of the public and private sector. The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the U.S. nuclear stockpile, were compromised as part of the larger attack, but its investigation found the hack did not affect “mission-essential national security functions.” Intelligence agencies have told Congress that they believe the attack was carried out by the S.V.R., an elite Russian intelligence agency. A Microsoft “heat map” of infections shows that 80 percent are in the U.S., while Russia shows no infections at all. Investigators believe the goal of the Russian attack was traditional espionage.