Biden stresses need to modernize U.S. cyberdefenses in wake of SolarWinds attack

The president-elect also accused the current administration of withholding key national security intelligence from the transition team.
(Gage Skidmore)

President-elect Joe Biden again Monday underlined a potential administration priority to modernize U.S. defenses against adversaries in cyberspace on the heels of the recently uncovered SolarWinds cybersecurity attack.

“We have to be able to innovate, to reimagine our defenses against growing threats in new realms like cyberspace,” Biden told reporters at a press conference. “We’re still learning about the extent of the SolarWinds hack and the vulnerabilities that have been exposed. As I said last week, this attack constitutes a grave risk to our national security.”

The SolarWinds incident, ongoing since March but first reported earlier this month, has quickly become one of the most severe cyberattacks on the federal government, with users who updated the company’s Orion software — which includes many federal agencies — inadvertently inviting malware into networks.

Biden first addressed the attack last week, calling it a “grave risk” to national security and vowing to do “all that needs to be done” to hold the culprits accountable.


Biden’s recent comments came after a private briefing with members of his intelligence and defense review teams, where he said those advisers filled him in on the “strategic challenges” coming from adversaries like Russia and China, and the types of reforms needed to meet those challenges.

“That includes modernizing our defense priorities to better deter aggression in the future, rather than continuing to over-invest in legacy systems designed to address issues of the past,” he said. He did not offer specific examples of what that modernization could look like under his leadership.

“We need to close the gap between where our capabilities are now and where they need to be to better deter, detect, disrupt, and respond to those sorts of intrusions in the future,” he said.

Adding to the ongoing narrative of a struggle between the outgoing Trump administration and Biden’s transition team, the president-elect said his staff is still not receiving information on national security issues from the “political leadership” at the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget, a gap that is “nothing short of irresponsible.”

“We need to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations,” he said. “My team needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world, and of our operations to deter our enemies.”

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