Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Obama used a cybersecurity link for the first time to warn Russia

Shortly before the recent US presidential election, a dedicated cybersecurity hotline with Moscow was used by president Obama to warn the Russian government not to interfere with the election process through hacking operations.

Press reports compared the cybersecurity with the "Red Phone", which many people believe is used on the Hotline between Washington and Moscow. That's not true, and also Obama's message seems not to have been transmitted by phone, but through an e-mail channel maintained the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center (NRRC).

Obama's message

The fact that on October 31, Obama sent the Russians a direct message through the cyber channel was first reported on December 16. Three days later, NBC News came with some details about the content of the message. According to anonymous officials, the message contained phrases like "International law, including the law for armed conflict, applies to actions in cyberspace" and that "We will hold Russia to those standards."

However, another senior intelligence official told NBC that the message was "muddled" because there was no bright line laid down and no clear warning given about the consequences. The Russian response, said the official, was non-committal. It's worrying that multiple government officials are talking about the use of the hotline, thereby undermining the necessary confidentiality of such an important communications system.

Obama's warning from October 31 was not about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or of it's chairman John Podesta, which director of national intelligence James Clapper had previously said was conducted with the knowledge of the Russian leadership. Instead, the warning only referred to the concerns about hacking around the election process itself.

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