At a time when authoritarian regimes in Russia and China are increasingly attempting to influence the internet, the State Department opened its new cybersecurity office on Monday in an effort to make digital security a pillar of US foreign policy. The action restores a bureaucratic structure that had been dissolved by the Trump administration, which was aiming to streamline the diplomatic office and remove red tape. The new bureau will employ a senior cyber diplomat, as well as other diplomatic people and expertise, to address cyber threats, global internet freedom, surveillance issues, and working with US allies to establish international norms and standards on emerging technology.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the creation of the new cyber bureau in October as part of a drive to reorganize and modernize the State Department to suit 21st-century needs. The launch of the new organization comes as Russia continues to wage war in Ukraine, with experts warning that the conflict might deteriorate into cyberwarfare, threatening essential infrastructures such as power grids, banks, and communications. Such attacks have the potential to wreak widespread devastation and perhaps death if they target hospitals and nursing homes. Experts believe that while no large-scale attack has yet been launched, the possibility exists.
Meanwhile, the United States has long been concerned about Chinese cyberattacks. The Biden administration blamed China in July for a cyberattack in early 2021 on the Microsoft Exchange email server software. According to the report, hackers linked to China’s Ministry of State Security exploited flaws to “attack tens of thousands of devices and networks around the world.”
For fear that the technologies developed by those companies could be used to spy on Americans or attack US communications networks, the US government has implemented laws that limit or prohibit some companies with ties to the Russian and Chinese governments from doing business in the US.
After former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson merged the former Entity of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues with another State Department office more than four years ago, the new bureau is being established. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to re-establish the Bureau of Cybersecurity and Emerging Technology in the last days of the Trump administration.
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Bipartisan support has been expressed for the creation of a new bureau inside the State Department. The House passed the Cyber Diplomacy Act earlier this year, which would create a cybersecurity bureau at the State Department and ensure that it is managed by an ambassador-level official selected by the president.
The new office will have three policy sections, according to the State Department: International Cyberspace Security, International Information and Communications Policy, and Digital Freedom. The bureau will eventually be managed by a Senator-confirmed Ambassador-at-Large. Jennifer Bachus, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, will serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the new bureau beginning today until President Biden appoints and the Senate confirms someone to the position, the department reported.