At a glance.
- Notes on US Senate’s nomination hearing for the cyber ambassador-at-large.
- China’s shifting cyber priorities.
Notes on US Senate’s nomination hearing for the cyber ambassador-at-large.
The US Senate yesterday conducted its nomination hearing for Nathaniel Fick, President Joe Biden’s pick for ambassador-at-large for the State Department’s new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Diplomacy. The Hill reports that during the hearing, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio expressed his concerns that the introduction of the new position represents what he considers an overabundance of cyber positions in the federal government. “What I’m concerned about is that we have overlapping responsibilities and authorities with regard to our cyber defense,” Portman stated. The new bureau’s focus is on international matters impacting cybersecurity, but Portman says Fick’s role shares many of the duties already covered by the White House’s national cyber director. Senator August King of Maine argued for the value of the new role, stating, “We want someone who gets up every morning thinking about the international ramifications of cyber and that’s what this office will do.”
For Ficks’s part, he said he understands some lawmakers’ concerns about added bureaucracy, but feels his role is essential: “It is always easy to add, but it's hard to subtract. And so I come to this role with a heightened sense of concern about the issue that you raise. And that said, I have a strong conviction that this role actually fills a gap that has existed in our government.” Defense One explains that the new bureau was established in April with the goal of directing future international cyber policies, and the ambassador role is intended to foster relationships with the Department of Defense and other agencies in order to strengthen interdepartmental coordination. Fick explained, “My hope if confirmed in this role is to is to provide kind of coherence to our tech diplomacy, and ensure that we as a government first, and we, as a leader of like minded allies and partners, are coordinating our efforts because we have a competitor out there with a very different vision of what our global technology future could look like.” He also stated that he would prioritize defending against threats stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as strategizing ways to promote the US’s digital competition with China.
China’s shifting cyber priorities.
The threat of Russian cyberaggression is understandably at the forefront of US lawmakers’ minds, especially with increased tensions stemming from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but Protocol warns that cyberthreats originating from China should be on everyone’s radar. According to cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, China was responsible for 67% of the state-sponsored intrusions attacks between mid-2020 and mid-2021, compared to just 1% from Russia. Last month the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and MI5 released a joint statement warning about Chinese espionage operations focused on stealing US and UK intellectual property, and FBI Director Christopher Wray described China's hacking power as "bigger than that of every other major country combined." Protocol says attentions are shifting to China for several reasons, including the possibility that tensions could rise between China and the US over Taiwan. Michael Daniel, formerly cybersecurity coordinator and special assistant to the president during the Obama administration, said industry leaders would be wise to look closely at the Chinese government’s "Made in China 2025" strategy, which lists the industries that it considers to be most important for future economic growth. "If your company is in one of those industries identified in that strategy, you are a target for Chinese intelligence," Daniel said. While industries like aerospace tech and quantum computing are well aware they have targets on their backs, others on the list like artificial intelligence, agricultural technology, and electric vehicles should be more proactive in protecting themselves against potential espionage operations. And while China’s attempts to steal political and industrial secrets are well-known, there’s reason to believe China could also launch cyberoperations targeting critical infrastructure in the hopes of crippling the US economy.