Joe Biden says US will hit Russia with cyberattacks in retaliation for data hack

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Joe Biden said: "I promise you there will be a response" - GETTY IMAGES
Joe Biden said: "I promise you there will be a response" - GETTY IMAGES

Joe Biden last night suggested he would launch retaliatory cyber attacks against Russia in the wake of a recent massive data breach of the US government.

The hacking was apparently carried out by Russia and posed a "grave risk" to national security that cannot "go unanswered," the president-elect said.

Mr Biden said: "They can be assured we will respond, probably respond in kind. There are many options I will not discuss now.”

Asked why he would not lay out the details of his response, he said: "We don't sit here and say we're going to strike you with a nuclear weapon and so on.

"Let us determine what the extent of the damage is. I promise you there will be a response." Mr Biden's suggestion that his response would be "in kind" was the clearest indication yet that he intends to target Russian infrastructure with cyber attacks, rather than simply imposing financial penalties.

The president-elect went on to lambast Donald Trump for not officially blaming Russia.

Mr Biden said: "This assault happened on Donald Trump's watch when he wasn't watching. Rest assured that even if he does not take it seriously, I will.”

The breach began earlier this year when hackers used the Texas-based software company SolarWinds as a stepping stone to get into government and corporate networks.

Mr Biden accused the Trump administration of failing to counter Russia's threat - GETTY IMAGES
Mr Biden accused the Trump administration of failing to counter Russia's threat - GETTY IMAGES

The attacks were first revealed earlier this month.

Among those breached were the US government departments of Treasury and Commerce, parts of the Defence department, and the state department and National Institutes of Health. Thousands of US companies were also exposed.

According to SolarWinds up to 18,000 of its customers had downloaded a software update that had been compromised, allowing the hackers to spy on them for months.

Read more: SolarWinds: How Russian hackers dealt the US its worst cyberspace defeat in a decade 

Earlier this month the US ordered those in government to disconnect the compromised software.

Mr Biden said the US government had been caught "off-guard and unprepared" by the hackers who had been working on the attack since at least last year.

He accused the Trump administration of failing to prioritise cyber security, and said he was "disappointed' by the president's "irrational downplaying" of the threat.

Mr Biden called on Mr Trump and his team to fully cooperate and share information about the attack to help prevent future ones.

The president-elect, during a Christmas speech in Delaware, said cyber attacks should be treated with "the same seriousness of purpose that we treated the threat of other unconventional weapons.”

Mr Trump has said the situation was "well under control”.

Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, has said "we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians" that were responsible.

The Kremlin denies any role in the hacking.

Mr Biden said: "I see no evidence that it’s under control. I see none. Heard of none. Defence department won’t even brief us on many things. So I know of nothing that suggests it’s under control.

"The question of the damage done remains to be determined. We have to look at, very closely, the nature of the breaches, how extensive they are, and what damage has been done," Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden said he would work with allies to ensure that there were "rules of the road" in cyber space" in future.

The president-elect said he could not currently ensure that US computer systems were safe but would "demand" they are following his inauguration next month.

Asked if he believed the Russian attack was an "act of war" he declined to say, instead calling it a "grave risk".

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