A pair of Democratic lawmakers is asking US President Joe Biden to increase cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine and European allies in the aftermath of a hack that disrupted service at a key Ukrainian internet service provider last month.
In a letter to Biden on Tuesday shared with CNN, Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Bill Keating, both of Massachusetts, expressed concern that Russia could lash out with further cyberattacks in Ukraine or with hacking that tests NATO’s resolve as Russian military progress in Ukraine stalls.
A cyberattack last week on Ukrtelecom, which describes itself as Ukraine’s largest “fixed line” internet and phone provider, that reportedly knocked connectivity down at the telecom operator to 13% of its pre-war levels.
The lawmakers, both members of their respective chamber’s foreign affairs committees, want a newly formed cybersecurity bureau at the State Department to bolster US cooperation with Ukraine and European allies on cybersecurity issues, and in turn help defend against Russian hacking threats.
A spokesperson for Markey’s office called the $37 million the White House requested from Congress to run the bureau in fiscal 2023 a “strong starting point,” but said that it was “imperative” that the State Department coordinate with government entities like the US Cyber Command and the Department of Homeland Security that have long provided cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine.
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
Separate from the new bureau, the State Department has overseen millions of dollars in aid to Kyiv to shore up its networks in recent years. And the head of US Cyber Command, the military’s hacking unit, said Tuesday that the command dispatched a team of cyber specialists to Ukraine late last year to help defend Ukrainian infrastructure.
More on the hacks: While there have been an array of Russia-linked hacking incidents against Ukrainian organizations since the war began, there haven’t been the level of disruptive hacks against critical infrastructure that some analysts feared.
One exception was a cyberattack at the onset of the war that knocked out internet service for tens of thousands of satellite modems in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe. US officials are investigating that incident as a potential state-sponsored Russian hack, CNN previously reported.
On March 21, Biden warned US business executives that “the magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential and it’s coming.” So far, no consequential hacks on US organizations publicly attributed to the Russian government have emerged. But US officials continue to prepare for the possibility.
Markey and Keating asked Biden to “promptly” nominate an ambassador-at-large to lead the State Department’s new cybersecurity bureau. (Secretary of State Antony Blinken told State Department employees Monday that Biden would nominate someone for the role “very soon.”)
The Democratic lawmakers also want to know what lessons the Biden administration have learned from Russian hacking in Ukraine in recent weeks.
“How is the Administration coordinating US government agencies to apply these lessons to shore up potential US vulnerabilities as well as those of our allies and partners?” Markey and Keating wrote to Biden, asking for answers by April 29.