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White House: Cyber Attacks Cost Big Bucks

The White House Friday (Feb. 16) released a Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) report that found that the economic costs of "malicious cyber activity" in 2016 were between $57 billion and $109 billion dollars.

At about the same time, the Justice Department was announcing indictments against Russian individuals and companies that used social media to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

The report concluded that better data and more cooperation "across firms and between the public and private sectors" are required to protect against such attacks. That was also one of the takeaways from top intelligence officials at a Hill hearing on global threats earlier this week.

By better data, the report means more sharing of data on breaches across firms and with the government. The lack of data, the report said, is largely because of the "strong disincentive" to report "negative news."

Publicly traded firms have to report breaches as mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (they are materially important to the value of a company), but the report cited concerns that companies are underreporting due to different interpretations of what is "material."

Malicious online activity is defined in the report as activity "that seeks to compromise or impair the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of computers, information or communications systems, networks, physical or virtual infrastructure controlled by computers or information systems, or the information resident thereof."

The report identifies Russia as one of the main nation-state actors whose motivations vary but include political and military agendas.

The White House email about the report came out about the same time DOJ's indictments against 13 Russian individuals and three companies for "committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election."

“This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the Internet,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a statement. “The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed. The Department of Justice will continue to work cooperatively with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and with the Congress, to defend our nation against similar current and future schemes. I want to thank the federal agents and prosecutors working on this case for their exceptional service."

DOJ said that in September 2017, "Soon after the news media reported that the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating evidence that Russian operatives had used social media to interfere in the 2016 election, one defendant allegedly wrote, 'We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity.... So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with my colleagues."

There is no mention of the Russian government in the indictment, nor, said Justice, was there any indication that the activity affected the outcome of the election.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee, as a part of our bipartisan investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, has been focused on uncovering and exposing the role that social media disinformation played in that effort," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in response to the announcement.  “I'm glad to see that work vindicated today by the Special Counsel’s indictment of the ‘Internet Research Agency,’ the Russian troll farm that was a key component of Russia’s attempts to interfere in the U.S. elections in 2016, and which continues to spew divisive and false content aimed at undermining the United States. With this indictment, the Special Counsel and his team have taken an important step to hold Russia accountable.

“As we heard this week from the nation’s top intelligence officials, Russia is still using social media to attack our democratic institutions and sow division amongst Americans. In Tuesday’s hearing, I was frustrated to hear that there is still no one leading a coordinated, organized effort within the intelligence community to monitor and combat Russian disinformation campaigns on social media. As vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I will continue pressing the nation’s intelligence leaders and the social media companies to be far more aggressive and proactive in responding to this threat.

“While platforms like Facebook and Twitter are allowing Americans to communicate and share ideas in ways unimaginable just a decade ago, we’re also learning that we each bear some responsibility for exercising good judgment and a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to the things we read and share on social media.”

"It has been clear to everyone (except Donald Trump) that Russia was deeply involved in the 2016 elections and intends to be involved in the 2018 elections," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "It is the American people who should be deciding the political future of our country, not Mr. Putin and the Russian oligarchs. It is absolutely imperative that the Mueller investigation be allowed to go forward without obstruction from the Trump administration or Congress."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in response to the indictments: "President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.

"President Trump says, 'it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.' ”

The President also tweeted:

Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018