Russia Could Fake Government Emails After SolarWinds Hack: Ex-Trump Adviser Thomas Bossert

President-elect Joe Biden should assume that any communications about the infiltration of U.S. agencies are being read by Russia, which has seemingly gained a foothold in government networks this year.

Thomas P. Bossert, former homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, issued a warning about the consequences of the SolarWinds cyberattack in an opinion article published by The New York Times on Wednesday.

He said Biden must start planning to "take charge of this crisis" and noted that Trump was "on the verge of leaving behind a federal government" that has been "compromised" by Russian attackers.

"He has to assume that communications about this matter are being read by Russia, and assume that any government data or email could be falsified," Bossert said of the president-elect, who will take office on January 20, 2021.

The Texas-based software giant SolarWinds has confirmed reports that hackers were able to insert malware into updates for an IT monitoring platform called Orion. If it was activated, attackers could compromise the server the product was on.

The attack was uncovered by U.S. cybersecurity company FireEye as it was investigating a breach of its own systems, reportedly by the same hackers. It is believed that the infiltration was the work of Russia.

Although an investigation into the scope of the attack is just beginning, it is believed that a vast number of agencies were affected, including the Treasury, Homeland Security, State and Commerce departments and parts of the Pentagon.

In a now-removed "customers" page on its website, SolarWinds said its software was used by more than 425 firms on the Fortune 500, all branches of the U.S. military, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA and many more.

SolarWinds has said it had currently identified 18,000 customers potentially affected by the security vulnerability, seemingly inserted into the Orion products and existing inside software updates and patches released between March 2020 and June 2020.

Bossert said although it was unlikely the alleged culprits had time to compromise every network targeted, they "most certainly did" take over "hundreds of them." He said it could take years to establish which networks the hackers had gained control over.

The national security expert said the "logical conclusion" was that the U.S. must act as if the Russian government "has control of all the networks it has penetrated." But he also warned that it remains unknown what the hackers will do next—if anything.

He said access to government networks could expose agencies to "far more" than just spying, noting that even perceived foreign control would undermine trust.

"In the networks that the Russians control, they have the power to destroy or alter data, and impersonate legitimate people. Domestic and geopolitical tensions could escalate quite easily if they use their access for malign influence and misinformation—both hallmarks of Russian behavior," the former Trump adviser wrote.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Bossert said the leaders of the country were "distracted" while the U.S. is under cyberattack. "This isn't about SolarWinds anymore. It hasn't been for months. The Russians are in our networks at a very fragile time," he said.

Russia has denied involvement in the attack, calling the claims an "unfounded attempt of the U.S. media to blame Russia for hacker attacks on U.S. governmental bodies."

Sen. Blumenthal and Secretary of State Pompeo have now both publicly attributed the SolarWinds hack to Russia.

— Dustin Volz (@dnvolz) December 16, 2020

SolarWinds said it had been "advised that this incident was likely the result of a highly sophisticated, targeted and manual supply chain attack by an outside nation state," but stressed that the company had "not independently verified the identity of the attacker."

Hacker Russia Stock Image
File photo: A hacker in front of a Russian flag. President-elect Joe Biden should assume any communications about the infiltration of U.S. agencies are being read by Russia, it has been claimed. iStock