President Obama expressed concern Monday that the United States is locked in a cyber arms race with Russia and other countries that could quickly escalate into war.
Speaking to reporters at the G-20 conference in Hangzhou, China, Obama admitted that he is worried about a cyber conflict between the two nations.
“We’re going to have enough problems in the cyberspace with non-state actors who are engaging in theft, and using the Internet for all kinds of illicit practices, and protecting our critical infrastructure and making sure that our financial systems are sound,” Obama said.
“What we cannot do is have a situation where this becomes the wild, Wild West where countries that have significant cyber capacity start engaging in unhealthy competition and conflict through these means,” Obama said.
China and India are other major players in cyber warfare. It is believed that China has the power to take down America’s power grid via a cyber attack.
“Look, we’re moving into a new era here where a number of countries have significant capacities. And, frankly, we’ve got more capacity than anybody, both offensively and defensively,” Obama warned. “But our goal is not to suddenly, in the cyber arena, duplicate a cycle of escalation that we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past, but rather to start instituting some norms so that everybody’s acting responsibly.”
Obama noted that past arms races have escalated into war. Many historians think a race between Britain, Germany and the United States to build battleships helped trigger World War I.
A major concern of Obama is that there are no norms or guidelines for cyberwarfare as there are for other kinds of conflict. For example, the major powers have signed treaties banning some physical weapons — such as landmines and poison gas — and restricted the use of others.
Obama wants a cyber treaty.
“That’s been a topic of conversation with President Putin,” Obama said.
Asked if Russia is trying to influence the US presidential election through hacking, Obama did not answer it directly but said: “I’m not going to comment on specific investigations that are still live and active. But I will tell you that we’ve had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia in the past, from other countries in the past.”
The Democratic National Committee’s computers were hacked, potentially by hackers within Russia.
Obama’s remarks came after The Washington Post reported that US intelligence and law enforcement officials are concerned about a broad Russian covert operation to sow distrust in American political institutions. That operation would reportedly involve cyber warfare against election systems and candidates.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented intrusion and an attempt to influence or disrupt our political process,” US Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-California) told The Post. Data stolen during the DNC hack was released on WikiLeaks and forced Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign. Putin has denied any Russian involvement in the attack.
Officials are so concerned about the intrusions that Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. is spearheading the investigation into them, The Post reported.
“[E]ven the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” an unidentified official told The Post. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.”
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