A week after dismissing hackers as “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds”, the GOP candidate acknowledges the significance of cybersecurity.
By Stephanie Condon for Between the Lines
Donald Trump, the US Republican party’s presidential candidate, promised on Monday that as president he would assemble a joint cybersecurity task force modeled on US efforts to take down organized crime.
“Identify theft, financial laundering, as well as ransomware — involving the extortion of a hacked institution — are all becoming increasingly common,” Trump said at a Virginia event hosted by a super PAC called Retired American Warriors. “We should not let this be like the history of the Mafia, which was allowed to grow into a nationwide organization, which infiltrated and corrupted so many areas of society. We can learn from this history, that when the Department of Justice, the FBI, the DEA, and state and local police and prosecutors were combined in task forces directed at the Mafia, they were able to get great successes and prosecutions out of them, and seizing their business interests.”
His task force would be assembled by the Department of Justice and work with local and state law enforcement authorities “to crush this still developing area of crime”, Trump said.
The Trump campaign did not respond to questions regarding who’s advising the candidate on cybersecurity issues. However, his remarks Monday were a far cry from the comments the candidate delivered in a debate against Secretary Hillary Clinton one week ago.
On Monday, Trump said, “Cyber attacks from foreign governments, especially China, Russia and North Korea, along with non-state terrorist actors and organized criminal groups, constitute one of our most critical national security concerns. They’re learning everything about us.”
In the debate a week earlier, he brushed aside concerns of state-sanctioned cyber intrusions.
“I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC,” Trump said in the debate, referencing the Democratic National Committee breach. “She’s [Clinton’s] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?”
On Monday, Trump promised to make cybersecurity “immediate and top priority” in his administration. A week earlier, he seemed unfamiliar with the subject entirely, referencing “the cyber” and remarking how his 10-year-old son “has computers”.
“He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough,” Trump said in the debate.
Now that he’s seemingly studied up a bit, Trump said he’d also ask the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff to make recommendations for augmenting the US Cyber Command. “As a deterrent against attacks on our critical resources, the US must possess the unquestioned capacity to launch crippling counter cyber attacks — and I mean crippling,” he said. “This is the warfare of the future.”
He also said that cyber warfare should be “one of our greatest weapons against the terrorists”, who currently use online propaganda to “take our youth out of the country and infiltrate our country in so many ways”.
Trump suggested establishing protocols for handling cyber attacks on government systems that sound similar to those already in place or being implemented by the Obama administration.
The candidate used his speech to slam Clinton for her handling of her private email server, remarking, “Hillary Clinton’s only experience in cybersecurity involves a criminal scheme to violate federal law, engineering a massive cover-up, and putting the nation in harm’s way.”
He once again accused Clinton of having her emails “acid washed”, adding, “And nobody even knows what that means, it’s a very expensive thing to do, most people don’t even know what means.”
Trump also lamented the constant cyber intrusions against the government, as well as against major entities like JP Morgan Chase, Ebay, and Target. About a week ago, Trump’s hotel chain agreed to pay penalties and overhaul its data security policies after data breaches exposed the credit card numbers of tens of thousands of customers.