Trump, Putin discuss forming an ‘impenetrable Cyber Security unit’

Following reports of Russia being suspected of hacking U.S. power plants, President Trump said he and Putin discussed creating an ‘impenetrable Cyber Security unit’ to guard against election and other negative hacks

Trump, Putin discuss forming an ‘impenetrable Cyber Security unit’
Credit: Gage Skidmore

President Trump said via tweet that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed forming an “impenetrable cyber security unit” during their meeting at the G20 summit in Germany.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded…..and safe.”

Trump also said, “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion.....”

Trump and Putin met for more than two hours on Friday. On Saturday, Putin told reporters that Trump seemed to agree that Russia did not interfere with the election. Putin said Trump “asked a lot of questions on this matter. I answered as many as I could answer. I think he took it into consideration and agreed with it. But you should ask him what his opinion is on that.”

Putin added that Trump “asked pointed questions, I answered them. It seemed to me that he was satisfied with those answers.” He also told reporters, “We didn’t meddle, just ask Trump.”

However, an unnamed senior Trump administration official told CNN that Trump didn’t buy Putin’s claim of not interfering in the election.

Whether or not Trump did believe Putin, the idea of the U.S. and Russia forming a joint cybersecurity unit is a mind-blower. As Rep. Eric Swalwell said in a tweet, “This is like giving the alarm code to the guys who just burglarized your home. Just make it easier for them next time.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio added, “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit’.”

Yet Putin told reporters “he and Trump agreed to set up a working group ‘on the subject of jointly controlling security in cyberspace’.”

Foreign hackers target U.S. energy sector

This announcement was made on the heels of the news about foreign hackers targeting the U.S. energy sector. More than a dozen U.S. power plants have been breached, according to Bloomberg, including Wolf Creek nuclear power plant in Kansas.

A joint report issued by the DHS and FBI described the hacks as “an advanced persistent threat,” reported Reuters. While the report did not specify which foreign government was behind the attacks, Bloomberg said Russia is suspected to be behind the hacking attempts.

Homeland Security issued a technical bulletin to the energy sector on June 28, 2017, Reuters reported. The alert warned of hacks targeting nuclear, power and critical infrastructure sectors; nation-state attackers are using spearphishing emails and watering hole techniques in attempts to harvest credentials. The attackers are attempting to establish backdoors that they can exploit at a later date.

“We’re moving to a point where a major attack like this is very, very possible,” Galina Antova, co-founder of Claroty, told Bloomberg. “Once you’re into the control systems—and you can get into the control systems by hacking into the plant’s regular computer network—then the basic security mechanisms you’d expect are simply not there.”

On Friday, the FBI and DHS issued a joint statement, saying, “There is no indication of a threat to public safety, as any potential impact appears to be limited to administrative and business networks.”

Yet experts such as Robert M. Lee, founder of Dragos, have been suggesting it is possible.

“It’s a plausible scenario that the adversaries in electric power business networks could pivot to the industrial networks. But it’s still not a trivial matter to compromise the industrial systems,” Lee said.

No officials have publicly gone on record to say with absolute certainty that Russia is behind the hacking attempts. Unnamed officials told NBC News that investigators “haven’t ruled out the possibility some other country’s hackers, mimicking the Russians, are responsible for the breaches.”

Russia has shown that it is capable of disrupting electric systems; just look at the two times the Ukrainian power grid was hit. If Russian hackers are attempting to backdoor critical infrastructure in the U.S., why would we even consider collaborating to create a cyber security unit?

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