Putin Cranks Up Russia’s Cyber Defenses
Policy + Politics

Putin Cranks Up Russia’s Cyber Defenses

© Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Even as Democrats in Congress clamor for more information from the Obama administration about Russia-backed efforts to interfere with the presidential election by hacking into Democratic Party-related computer networks, the Russian government is taking steps to protect its own country from outside intrusion into its own computer networks.

President Vladimir Putin this week approved a new “information security doctrine” that updates a policy that has been in place since 2000. In addition to steps meant to increase the security of Russian internet infrastructure from foreign attacks, the policy also calls for a stepped-up campaign of state-produced “news” that much of the rest of the world views as Kremlin propaganda.

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“The strategic goals of ensuring information security in the sphere of state and public security are the protection of sovereignty, supporting political and social stability, territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, ensuring major rights and liberties of man and the citizen and also protection of critical information infrastructure,” the document released by the Kremlin says.

The new policy also contains plans to crack down on foreign media coverage, particularly coverage critical of the Russian government. “There is an increased information impact on Russia’s citizens, first of all young people, with the goal of washing out traditional Russian moral and spiritual values,”

The new Russian policy, which was thin on specifics, at least in its public release, comes just months after the U.S. intelligence community released a highly unusual statement accusing the Russian government of being behind multiple efforts to interfere in the U.S. election by hacking into computers and email accounts belonging to the Democratic National Committee and a number of high-profile Democratic operatives, including John Podesta, the chairman of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” said the statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

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President-elect Donald Trump, who plainly benefited from a near-constant stream of stolen emails that were released to the media in the month before the election, has repeatedly said that he does not believe Russia had anything to do with the attacks on the DNC, Podesta and others.

“That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point,” Trump said in an interview with Time magazine published Wednesday. “Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’"

When pressed on the fact that there had indisputably been hacking of computers, he added, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

Nevertheless, many lawmakers -- and not just Democrats -- are furious at the idea of Russia meddling in a U.S. presidential election. This week South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that he will pursue an investigation of Russian hacking in the Senate.

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On Wednesday, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, the ranking member of the CIA Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, introduced a bill calling for a special commission to investigate Russia’s involvement in the presidential election.

“Regardless of whether you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, Russia’s attacks on our election are an attempt to degrade our democracy and should chill every American—Democratic, Republican, or Independent—to the core,” said Cummings. “This commission will conduct a truly bipartisan and comprehensive review of these attacks and offer specific recommendations to prevent future attacks on our electoral process.”

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are pressuring the Obama administration to declassify more of the information that led the intelligence community to the unanimous conclusion that Russia was behind the attacks.

All of the Democratic and independent members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a letter to President Obama, have argued that the American people deserve more information than they have been given.

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“We believe there is additional information concerning the Russian government and the US election that should be declassified and released to the public,” they wrote. “We are conveying specifics through classified channels.”

Whether the Obama administration will release further details or not is an open question -- and a delicate one.

Trump is plainly sensitive to the public impression that Russia may have helped him in some fashion during the election, and if President Obama were to release additional information backing up that storyline, he could be seen as deliberately undermining his successor.