Biden sees cyberattacks as possible precursor to “real shooting war”

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President Joe Biden warns if the US ends up in a “real shooting war” with a “major power” it could be the result of a significant cyberattack, highlighting what Washington sees as growing threats posed by Russia and China.

Cybersecurity is top of the agenda for the Biden administration after a series of high profile attacks on entities including network management company SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, the meat processing company JBS and software firm Kaseya hurt the US beyond just the companies hacked. Some attacks affected fuel and food supplies in parts of the United States.

“I think it’s more likely we’re going to end up, if we end up in a war – a real shooting war with a major power – it’s going to be a consequence of a cyber breach and it’s increasing exponentially, the capabilities,” Biden said while visiting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

During a June 16 summit in Geneva between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden shared critical infrastructure the US considers off limits to nation-state actors.

Since then, senior members of the Biden administration’s national security team are in constant contact with senior Kremlin members over cyberattacks on the US, the White House said.

Biden highlighted threats posed by China, referring to President Xi Jinping as “deadly earnest about becoming the most powerful military force in the world, as well as the largest and most prominent economy in the world by the mid-40s, the 2040s.”

During his speech to about 120 ODNI employees and senior leadership officials, Biden thanked US intelligence agencies, emphasised confidence in the work they do and said he will not exert political pressure on them. The ODNI oversees 17 US intelligence organisations.

“I’ll never politicise the work you do. You have my word on that,” he said. “It’s too important for our country.”

Biden’s comments offered a clear departure from remarks made by predecessor Donald Trump, who had a contentious relationship with intelligence agencies over issues such as its assessment that Russia interfered to help Trump win the 2016 election and its role in revealing Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden.

Trump went through four permanent or acting directors of national intelligence during his four years in office.