Hillary Clinton: Cyber Legislation in Congress Is ‘Not Enough’ to Stop Foreign Hackers

“It’s not only the Chinese. We know that other governments — Russia, North Korea, Iran — have either directly or indirectly sponsored hacking.”

Hillary Clinton speaks at an organizing event at a private home July 4, 2015 in Glen, New Hampshire. 
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
July 7, 2015, 12:56 p.m.

Pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Hil­lary Clin­ton on Tues­day said that stalled cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion in Con­gress “doesn’t go far enough” to pro­tect the U.S. from de­bil­it­at­ing hacks sponsored by a cadre of for­eign coun­tries.

Dur­ing a brief ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion with the press in Iowa, the front-run­ner for the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion ex­pan­ded to four the list of coun­tries she has pub­licly charged with wa­ging cy­ber­war­fare that rep­res­ents a ser­i­ous com­mer­cial and na­tion­al se­cur­ity threat

“It’s not only the Chinese. We know that oth­er gov­ern­ments — Rus­sia, North Korea, Ir­an — have either dir­ectly or in­dir­ectly sponsored hack­ing,” the former sec­ret­ary of State said. “And we worry about ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions get­ting ac­cess to the ca­pa­city.”

Clin­ton — who grabbed head­lines over the week­end by as­sail­ing China for “try­ing to hack in­to everything that doesn’t move” — ad­ded that le­gis­la­tion to ex­pand the shar­ing of “cy­ber­threat data” alone between the gov­ern­ment and private sec­tor is not enough to thwart ma­li­cious activ­ity.

“We’ve been try­ing to get a good plan go­ing for­ward; we’re mak­ing a little bit of pro­gress on that in the Con­gress. It is, for me, not enough,” Clin­ton said. “It doesn’t go far enough to try to have bet­ter co­ordin­a­tion between the pub­lic and private sec­tor.”

Clin­ton lis­ted “cum­ber­some pro­cure­ment and bur­eau­crat­ic obstacles with­in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment” as oth­er obstacles in­hib­it­ing cy­ber­se­cur­ity, ref­er­en­cing the rocky roll-out of Health­Care.gov in 2013 as evid­ence that gov­ern­ment is in need of a tech­no­lo­gic­al over­haul that in­cludes a more stream­lined pro­cess for work­ing with IT con­tract­ors.

Clin­ton did not cla­ri­fy which spe­cif­ic info-shar­ing le­gis­la­tion she was re­fer­ring to, however — or wheth­er it alone would be a use­ful step for­ward. Two sim­il­ar info-shar­ing bills eas­ily passed the House earli­er this year, and a Sen­ate ver­sion, known as the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, has stalled after clear­ing the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on a 14-1 vote. A plan by Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell to at­tach CISA as an amend­ment to a de­fens­ive au­thor­iz­a­tion bill back­fired last month be­cause Demo­crats re­fused to sup­port it due to pro­ced­ur­al con­cerns.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates and many com­puter ex­perts have warned that ex­pand­ing in­form­a­tion-shar­ing would not do much to pre­vent or min­im­ize cy­ber­at­tacks, and that such le­gis­la­tion could ac­tu­ally em­bolden gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance by hand­ing more data over to the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have privately poin­ted to China as the cul­prit be­hind a massive data breach of per­son­nel files at the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment, a hack that has af­fected mil­lions of cur­rent and former fed­er­al em­ploy­ees. Some law­makers have also said China is to blame, al­though the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to res­ist ac­cus­ing Beijing pub­licly.

Clin­ton’s com­ments are her most de­tailed about cy­ber­se­cur­ity since of­fi­cially de­clar­ing her White House bid nearly three months ago. She said Tues­day that her con­cerns about for­eign na­tions hack­ing the U.S. date back to her ten­ure as sec­ret­ary of State.

“It star­ted with the grave con­cerns that a lot of Amer­ic­an busi­nesses had, that their most con­fid­en­tial in­form­a­tion was be­ing va­cu­umed up through in­trus­ive hack­ing,” Clin­ton said. “It’s a ser­i­ous threat to our com­mer­cial in­terests, to our in­tel­li­gence in­terests, to our stra­tegic in­terests.”

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