The Department of State is creating a new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy to focus on tackling cybersecurity challenges at a time of growing threats from opponents. There will also be a new Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technologies to spearhead the technology diplomacy agenda with US allies.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Wednesday that organizational changes underscore the need for a robust approach to tackling cyber threats.
“We want technology to work for democracy, fighting disinformation, upholding internet freedom and reducing the misuse of surveillance technology,” Blinken said in a speech on modernizing American diplomacy.
Blinken said the new bureau would be headed by an ambassador-at-large. The chief US diplomat is also pushing for a 50% increase in the State Department’s IT budget.
The announcement stems from the fact that hackers, backed by governments of other countries, such as Russia and China, continue to attack US infrastructures and global technology systems in order to steal confidential information.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said more countries are relying on cyber operations to steal information, impact populations and damage industries, but the US is most concerned about Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
US tech giant Microsoft said Monday that the same Russian-backed hackers responsible for breaking into SolarWinds’ corporate computer systems in 2020 continue to attack global technology systems, this time targeting cloud service resellers.
A senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday that Washington had made it clear to Moscow that cybercriminals targeting the United States were “unacceptable.” The United States has asked the Russian government to “take action against this type of criminal behavior.”
Dealing with cyberattacks remains a “top priority” in US relations with Russia, a senior official said.
According to analysts, China is also considered one of the top US cybercriminals, as it has coordinated groups both inside and outside the government that conduct large-scale and indiscriminate cyber espionage campaigns.
Over the past year, experts have linked notable hacks in the United States, Europe and Asia to China’s Ministry of State Security, the country’s civilian intelligence agency, which has taken the lead in Beijing’s cyber espionage, consolidating the efforts of the People’s Liberation Army.
In addition to empowering the Department of State in cybersecurity, Blinken also presented other steps to modernize American diplomacy, including the launch of a new “political ideas channel” that allows American diplomats to share their political ideas directly with senior management, creating and retaining a diverse workforce, and a plan to “ to intensify personal diplomacy and public participation ”.
Organizational changes to increase resources and staffing to address international cybersecurity concerns came after the Department of State completed an extensive review of cyberspace and emerging technologies.