The Obama administration is expected to announce as early as tomorrow the retaliatory steps it plans to take against Russia for the alleged cyberassault that may have affected the U.S. presidential election, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Federal authorities are also expected to lay out in further detail why it is so confident that Russia was behind the hacks and tried to influence the U.S. election. Sources said that groups believed to be involved in the Russian-backed operations will be named.
Authorities said a Russian-backed cyberassault on Democratic political organizations during the 2016 presidential campaign resulted in leaked emails that proved embarrassing to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Sources told ABC News the announcement would include only public steps, particularly economic sanctions, and is not expected to reveal any possible covert actions being taken by U.S. intelligence agencies. It will add a little more clarity about why authorities believe Russia is to blame, one source said.
The expected announcement is not the culmination of the broad review of Russian hacking recently ordered by President Obama. That review is ongoing, and its findings won't be released until next month.
The Washington Post first reported that the new actions against Russia could be announced as early as this week.
Cyberretaliation against Russia for allegedly meddling in the U.S. election may be limited by fear among U.S. officials of Russia’s ability to fire back with devastating consequences.
According to Anup Ghosh, a former top government cyberexpert and the CEO of cybersecurity firm Invincea, American officials are aware that the Russians have already penetrated portions of U.S. critical infrastructure. He said the Russians “have the capability and the will” to pull the trigger on these cyberimplants; Russia used similar malware in cyberattacks that crippled huge swaths of the Ukrainian power grid during the Crimean crisis. Ghosh is a former top official at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, an arm of the Defense Department that creates and adapts emerging technologies for military use.
He said that a significant U.S. cyberattack on Russia would carry “a huge risk” of retaliation and that he doubts the U.S. could “dominate that retaliation.” That is one of the unspoken reasons the Obama administration has been saying any retaliation against Russia will be “proportional,” he said.
He said he expects that the primary U.S. action will have to be similar to the approach used against China, with sanctions and diplomatic and law enforcement tools used to try to deter the behavior.
When asked about the U.S. response to the Russian cyberattacks, White House spokesman Josh Earnest would say only that the United States “will respond at a time and with a means of our choosing.”