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U.S. State Department Launches Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies Push

Cybersecurity has taken a more formal turn toward diplomacy with a new office in the U.S. State Department intended to engage with the international community on cybersecurity and emerging technology issues.

The new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies’ (CSET) directive is to expand U.S. diplomatic efforts to reduce the threat of cyber conflicts with adversarial, state-sponsored hackers, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted on the agency’s website.

Formalizing CSET comes on the heels of the massive malware attack allegedly launched by Russia against U.S. government agencies, critical infrastructure and private industry. The hack involved cyber operatives infiltrating SolarWinds’ Orion platform — and then out to some SolarWinds customers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have jointly tied the attack to Russian hackers. The State Department, which is a SolarWinds customer, was among the roughly 10 federal agencies victimized in the breach.

State department officials first notified Congress of its plan to create CSET in June, 2019. In the ensuing 18 months, challenges to U.S. national security by China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and other “cyber and emerging technology competitors and adversaries have only increased,” Pompeo’s office said. It’s expected that the CSET sub-agency will lead U.S. government diplomatic efforts on a range of international cyberspace security and emerging technology policy issues that affect U.S. foreign policy and national security, including securing cyberspace and critical technologies, reducing the likelihood of cyber conflict and prevailing in strategic cyber competition, officials said. “The Secretary’s decision to establish CSET will permit the Department to posture itself appropriately and engage as effectively as possible with partners and allies on these pressing national security concerns,” the State Department spokesperson said.

When Pompeo first announced plans to set up CSET, Eliot Engel (D-NY), former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said its mission and scope were too restricted. “While Congress has pursued comprehensive, bipartisan legislation, the State Department has plowed ahead in its plan to create a bureau with a much narrower mission focused only on cybersecurity,” he said. “This move flies in the face of repeated warnings from Congress and outside experts that our approach to cyber issues needs to elevate engagement on economic interests and internet freedoms together with security.” (via The Hill)

CSET’s mission is similar in direction to a bill passed by the House and approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2018. The Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 would establish an advisory office to the State Department on cyberspace issues, including international cybersecurity, internet access and freedom and international cyber threats.” The legislation passed the House nearly five months after then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress he planned to close the Office of Cybersecurity Coordinator in a roundly criticized move.

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