The White House insists that it’s mounting a robust response to digital offensives against election systems and other critical infrastructure. We asked The Network, a panel of more than 100 cybersecurity leaders from government, academia and the private sector, to share their opinions in our ongoing, informal survey. (You can see the full list of experts here. Some were granted anonymity in exchange for their participation.) Our survey revealed broad doubts among experts about the country’s deterrence strategy, after President Trump chose not to back the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions that Moscow directed the cyberattacks aimed at disrupting the 2016 presidential election at a July press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Deterrence depends on a credible promise to take stern action. The Helsinki summit makes it impossible for the world to believe that this president will take stern action against Putin,” said Peter Swire, former chief counselor for privacy at the Office of Management and Budget and a member of President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology.
And it’s not just Helsinki: Even though Trump later tried to walk back those comments to say he believed the election interference took place, he also insisted it “could be other people also” besides Russia. “When the President casts doubt on whether Russia is responsible, that undercuts any responsive actions the administration may take — such as sanctions — and sends the message that Russian malign activity in cyberspace is okay — not deterring them but encouraging them to do it again since there are no costs if doing so,” said Christopher Painter, the State Department’s former top cyber-diplomat.