Recent Russian cyber hacks 'more blatant than I've seen in my career': Gen. Alexander

Security panel discusses U.S.-Russia relations on "This Week."
11:21 | 05/30/21

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Transcript for Recent Russian cyber hacks 'more blatant than I've seen in my career': Gen. Alexander
While the administration grapples with domestic challenges, new and alarming reports on suspected threats from Russia have emerged, and all of it comes as president Biden and Putin officially announced a meeting in Geneva next month. Reporter: This week, the white house acknowledging that hackers infiltrated the email system of the U.S. Development agency said. Sending emails to more than 7,000 accounts, across 350 organizations. How many rights groups, nonprofits, some of the Kremlin's most vocal critics. Microsoft identified the hack and said, nobellium was responsible, the same Russian group behind the solarwinds attack. That hacked the full extent of the damage unknown. Stretched deep into the email .systems of numerous federal government agencies, including the treasury and Pentagon. The Russian government denied responsibility for any of these attacks. This isn't the only case of malicious cyberactivity of likely Russian origin. This is a sophisticated actor who did their best to hide their tracks. Reporter: Cyberattacks are just one area of suspected Russian activity. The national security council now determined to find out who and what is responsible. Those more than 100 reported cases of so-called Havana syndrome. The mysterious and serious health incidents that first affected Americans in Cuba now reaching U.S. Spies, diplomats and other personnel around the globe. Former CIA operative says Russia must be behind it. He became dangerously ill during a trip to Moscow in 2017 with debilitating symptoms that have plagued him ever since. I woke up in the middle of the night with an incredible case of vertigo. The room was spinning. Every day for three years I have had a splitting headache, a migraine headache in the back of my head. It's a headache that never goes away. Reporter: The state department urging employees worldwide to be on the lookout for those crippling symptoms. Headaches, loss of vision, cognitive defects and more. A report conducted in December found the injuries were consistent with directed microwave radiation. For the first time, it gave a very plausible explanation to what happened, which is a directed energy attack. We have something, you know, concrete that says what happened to us. Reporter: U.S. Officials say they are not certain of the cause, and can't say for certain Russia was involved, but acknowledge even domestic incidents are now under investigation. At least two of them reportedly occurred in the Washington area. One just feet from the white house. So let's bring in the experts on this. General Keith Alexander, former director of the national security agency, and the first commander to lead U.S. Cyber command. And ABC contributor Tom Bossert who served as homeland security adviser to president trump. Welcome to all of you. General Alexander, I want to start with you, and I want to start with those cyberattacks. Americans realize how serious these cyberattacks can be with the colonial pipeline. Of course, that was a ransomware attack, and they wanted money, but the solarwinds attacks are different, but so, so serious. What are the hackers after? I think the Russian hackers are clearly after gaining intelligence on our country, on what the administration is doing, what president Biden is thinking, and what's coming up against Russia as they prepare I think for the upcoming talks between president Biden and Putin. They're stealing information, and, you know, it's interesting, Martha. This is more blatant than I've seen in my career. They're going after this in the solarwinds, and I think 18,000 companies as you said, 7,000 more with this last usaid attack, and the colonial pipeline even though they claim that was from hackers. I believe they're associated somehow. They're sending a message and they're doing it blatantly, and they're going after our intelligence system and they're saying, we can do this. We've got to fix it. And it obviously did expose our vulnerabilities. So how do you fix it? I think that's -- I like what president Biden put in the executive order. It's public private partnership. We have to build the solution together. The government can't do it by itself. You see most of the attacks are going against the commercial sector. The government can't see them. We need to create a radar picture that shows attacks in time to prevent them. Not talk about them after the breach, but prevent the attacks so we need to work this together as a team. This is part of our future, and we've got the get good at it, and we've got to do it quickly. Both Russia and China are challenging us in this space, and it's shown that we're not ready. I think the executive order had some part of it. We have to go faster. My experience of the private sector is ready. They're pushing forward. So this is where congress and the administration, the government and the private sector can really help fix this problem. We need to do it. And I want to ask you, I know you've worked with several government agencies, and you testified before congress about the solarwinds attack and said there is simply no unifying governmental organization looking at future vulnerabilities. You heard what general Alexander said. What do you think has to happen? For anyone who is still asleep at the wheel, these attacks are a wakeup call, and they're a wakeup call about the new normal we live in, which is strategic competition in cyberspace is happening every day. Whether it's the theft of defense secrets, whether it's political dissidents and activists and it's only going to activate over time. The approach we have had which is this whac-a-mole approach, it doesn't size to the scale to the scope of the prop. We have adversaries who are creative and bold, and they're using our laws and regulations against us to launch these attacks. So we need to take a different perspective. We need to have as the general said, a public private partnership, an organization that's looking over the ridge line to identify the future global threats, the future risk environment, and the vulnerabilities that we face so that we can develop the defenses for those, and we have great examples. I mean, if you look to World War II where Alfred Loomis pulled together the best and the brightest to solve the technical problems and arguably change the course of the war, it has to be blic private, and it has to be the best and the brightest, and it has to be strategic, not practical. One of the challenges is public-private. You are protecting vulnerabilities and these companies, don't some companies just look and say, you know, it costs a lot of money to protect my system. Or to upgrade my system. You know, what's $5 million if I have to pay a ransom? Some companies view it as a cost of doing business they get hit. They pay the ransom and come back online. There's a number of things I would like to change about the way we look at it. Including in that question, are we just protecting individual companies, critical infrastructure or as I see it, is the United States in a position to do something to stop the adversary? So if you get closer to the source, you end up with north Korea, Russia, China, Iran on the attackand as you get farther on the end points, you get 3 trillion end points every day. It's a difficult challenge, and if everyone is in this alone though, individually against a Russian, Chinese and increasingly combined Russian and Chinese effort, we're going to fail every time. Whether it's an individual government agency or a pipeline operator, there's got to be a collective defense that's generally -- from general Alec -- Alexander's point of view, I agree, but we have to protect those end points. I think we have to do something far more direct. I think we have to introduce something more direct, and I think Russia is doing more than just collecting intelligence. At this point there's evidence that they are carrying out their strategic intent to reduce the U.S. In its influence and power. They're trying to do things to destabilize us, and destabilizing big companies like Microsoft is just one way. I want to move to that syndrome, and general Alexander, let me ask you about that. "The new Yorker" had an article about that investigation, and it mentioneded those directed energy devices saying the working hypothesis is that agents of the Russian military's intelligence service have been aiming microwave devices at U.S. Officials to collect intelligence from their computers and cell phones and these devices can cause serious harm to the people they target. Does that make sense to you? Yeah, it does, and you've seen that. What'salled the Havana syndrome. We've seen that. We're proven that, and they've done it before. Not just against our country, but in the same thing, that talked about Canada and others. It's an incredibly bold move, though. An incredibly bold move. What do we do about that? How do you punish them? It's the same thing as cyber. How do you push back? You've got to give the president and the administration the tools and they have those to look at this from a economic, military across the spectrum. Over and over, what are they going to do? I think the president has said in a number of meetings, I have been with him on some of those when he was vice president, they do it right. They'll get the national security council together and say, what message are we going to send back, and do it in the best interest of this nation? I think it will be done right, but he has to push back. You've hit on a key point. This is egregious, this is blatant, and as Tom said, they're telling us, we don't care. We're doing it publicly, and we'll keep doing it. Thank you, general. I want to hear very quickly from the two of you. What does he do at the summit? He has a take a position, and prevent Russia from breaking up the European union, and do it from a position of strength meaning he lays out a path in which we apply meaningful sanctions to Russia's oil revenues and sovereign wealth. Messages don't work with Putin. Actions do. We have to take action. We have a good example in protecting the 2018 midterm elections and shutting down Russian influence operations, taking a government approach, with the FBI thorpt authorities and working with a private sector with dhs and its mandate to protect elections and cyber command and the ability to operate overseas. We have to take action, and it's not about just delivering this message. There are three things we have to do today. Regulating cryptocurrency becomes so important when we want to stop ransomware. Which is a scourge right mow in cyberspace. Thanks to all of you. Really fascinating discussion.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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