Vice President Pence blames US cybersecurity issues on Obama

Pence says the Trump administration "inherited a cyber crisis."

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
3 min read
Department Of Homeland Security Holds National Cybersecurity Summit In NYC

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Summit.

Kevin Hagen / Getty Images

Thanks, Obama.

US cybersecurity issues aren't fault of the current administration, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, putting the blame instead on the man who occupied the office before President Donald Trump. 

"Sadly, previous administrations have let the American people down when it came to cyber defense," Pence said at the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Summit in New York. "We inherited a cyber crisis."

Pence took several jabs at Barack Obama's administration, saying it hadn't done enough to strengthen US cybersecurity efforts. That led to major hacks over the last four years, including the OPM breach and the Equifax breach affecting half of the American population, Pence suggested. 

Pence also criticized the Obama administration for using Russian-based software from Kaspersky Lab, which the federal government has since banned, citing security concerns. 

"The last administration too often chose silence and paralysis over strength and action," Pence said. "Make no mistake about it, those days are over."

In his closing remarks at the summit, which also featured panels with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, FBI Director Christopher Wray and NSA Director Paul Nakasone, Pence highlighted efforts the Trump administration has taken to improve cybersecurity in the states. Those include a new National Risk Management Center that the DHS announced at the summit and is designed to foster co-operation between private industry and the government.

Pence's remarks come amid heightened concern over cybersecurity, with the exposure of consumer data occurring almost weekly and growing concern over nation-sponsored attacks. Over the last decade, the US government has ramped up its cybersecurity operations, but in recent years the issue has reached a tipping point for many agencies.

Hackers from countries such as North Korea, Russia, China and Iran have carried out major assaults, affecting elections and critical infrastructure, such as electrical grids. At a Senate hearing in February, top US intelligence officials said they considered cybersecurity the country's greatest concern, ranking it over threats like weapons of mass destruction and terrorist attacks.

Nielsen's opening remarks at the summit echoed that sentiment.

"The DHS was founded 15 years ago to prevent another 9/11," the agency's leader said. "I believe the next major attack is more likely to reach us online than on an airplane."   

Nielsen said the US is facing an "urgent evolving crisis in cyberspace" as hackers continue to ramp up their efforts for future attacks. She noted that 2017 had been the worst year on record for cyberattacks.

"Everyone and everything is now a target," Nielsen said.

Pence's speech comes on the same day that Facebook said it had discovered another influence campaign on its social network that was designed to undermine US democracy. It also comes about two weeks after Trump said he believed that Russian hackers interfered with the US presidential election in 2016. Trump had earlier defended Russia against charges of meddling during a controversial press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the New York summit Tuesday, Pence said Russia had indeed interfered in the election and that the US wouldn't tolerate any attacks on its democracy.

As for the Obama administration's cybersecurity legacy, it depends on whom you ask.

Michael Daniel, Obama's former cybersecurity coordinator, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Pence's remarks. Last July, Daniel told CNET that "there's actually been a fair amount of continuity between [the Trump] administration and the Obama administration" on cybersecurity.

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