Antony Blinken’s visit to Silicon Valley highlights US cybersecurity concerns | Cyber ​​war

The US secretary of state visited Silicon Valley this week, on a trip that experts say highlights the Biden administration’s growing concerns over cybersecurity and officials’ efforts to collaborate more. closely with the powerful American technology industry.

Antony Blinken spoke Monday at Stanford University and was scheduled to meet with technology leaders to “underscore the key role of technology diplomacy in advancing the economic and national security of the United States,” according to the Department of Technology. ‘State.

The department shared few other details about the visit and did not respond to a request for comment. But experts said national security concerns, including the growing threat of cyber warfare and potential foreign interference in the upcoming election, were almost certainly on the agenda.

U.S. administrations have long been in touch with the tech world, but amid the brutal ongoing war in Ukraine, Blinken’s visit comes at “incredibly tense times internationally,” said technology expert Theresa Payton. cybersecurity and former White House Chief Information Officer.

“Every presidential office since the internet began has tried to raise awareness in Silicon Valley, some more successfully than others,” she said. “But the war in Ukraine has created a critical tipping point in the need for collaboration.”

Last year, Russian hackers carried out several cyberattacks against Ukraine, including one in January that temporarily beaten down over 70 government websites. The scope of Moscow’s cyber war against Ukraine and its allies has been smaller than analysts predicted at the start of the war, but experts have warned that as the conflict drags on and the streak Russia’s defeats on the ground continue, the risk of a fuller war and catastrophic state-directed cyberattacks are on the rise.

“The State Department is probably thinking about what Putin’s plan B would be and trying to get ahead of him by meeting with Silicon Valley,” Payton said. “It is feared that such an attack could wreak havoc internationally as well as on American businesses.”

In addition to foreign cyberattacks, the State Department is likely trying to work with Silicon Valley on solutions to lingering concerns of election interference, said Joshua Tucker, co-director of the Center for Social Media and Politics at NYU and senior adviser to the security. Kroll solutions company. “With the approach of the midterm, all eyes are on social media platforms – not only for the public, but also for policy makers,” he said.

These concerns include cyberattacks that could interfere with the voting process, including the disruption of voter registration lists or the counting of ballots, as well as coordinated disinformation campaigns such as the one staged by Russia during the 2020 presidential election.

Blinken’s trip highlights the government’s growing recognition that the private sector plays a crucial role in national security issues, said Glenn Gerstell, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former general counsel at the Agency. of national security.

“In early Silicon Valley, technology operated with relative impunity from government regulations and accountability,” Gerstell said. But the rise of authoritarian censorship, foreign interference in elections and attacks by states like Russia and China have underscored the need for greater information sharing from the industry, he said. he argued.

“Tech companies have far more eyes and ears on the ground in terms of cyber presence around the world than governments will ever have,” Gerstell said. “Both sides need each other.”

Meanwhile, Blinken’s trip comes at a “critical time” for the tech industry as cyber risks rise globally, he added.

A series of high-profile major hacks in the United States in recent years have placed a more urgent focus on national cybersecurity. From the Colonial Pipeline hack in 2021 to the most recent disruptive ransomware attack on the nation’s second-largest school district, it’s become clearer that the United States needs to prioritize preparedness better, Gerstell said. This extends to private companies, as the number of cyberattacks increase 31% between 2020 and 2021 only.

“Government needs the private sector, but the private sector also realized they needed government help,” Gerstell said. “The bottom line is that the two sides need to meet.”

In evidence of the Biden administration’s concern over issues such as cybersecurity, the State Department this year requested a 50% increase in its IT budget and established an Office of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, which will work to “encourage responsible state behavior in cyberspace” and “advance policies that protect the integrity and security of the Internet’s infrastructure.”

The Department also named former Marine Corps officer and cyber leader Nathaniel Fick as the first “cyber ambassador”. While testifying during his Senate approval process, Fick stressed the need to partner with other governments and the private sector to “understand how digital technologies can help people exercise their human rights and to reach their full potential”.

But the State Department’s outreach also comes at a tense time for tech companies in the United States. The tech space has been seeing a growing backlash from the public and regulators for some time over its unchecked power, with the majority of Americans saying these companies should be better regulated. Such skepticism of big tech could extend to government collaborations with industry, Tucker said.

“Trust in tech companies is down and people are going to be suspicious of everything,” he said. “There is a long tradition in the United States of being suspicious that the government has too much power to police its citizens.”

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