The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Silicon Valley this week on a trip that specialists believe highlights the Biden administration’s growing concerns over cybersecurity and officials’ push to cooperate more closely with the US’s robust tech industry.
A series of high-profile significant hacks in the US in recent years has focused more on national cybersecurity. From the hack of the Colonial pipeline in 2021 to the more recent disruptive ransomware attack on the country’s second-largest school district, it has become more apparent that the US needs to prioritize preparedness better. This extends to private businesses, as the number of cyber-attacks increased by 31% between 2020 and 2021.
Concurrently, Blinken’s trip is crucial for the tech industry as cyber risks rise globally.
Evidencing the Biden administration’s apprehension over issues like cybersecurity, the state department this year asked for a 50% increase in its IT budget and created a bureau of cyberspace and digital policy, which will work to “encourage responsible state behavior in cyberspace” and “advance policies that protect the integrity and security of the infrastructure of the internet.”
“Every presidential office since the beginning of the internet has tried to do outreach to Silicon Valley, some more successfully than others. But the war in Ukraine has created a critical tipping point in the need for collaboration. The state department is likely considering what Putin’s plan B would be and attempting to get ahead of it by meeting with Silicon Valley. There are concerns that such an attack could wreak havoc internationally and on American businesses,” said Theresa Payton, cybersecurity expert, and former White House chief information officer.
The state department appointed former Marine Corps officer and cyber executive Nathaniel Fick as its first “cyber ambassador.” In testimony during his Senate approval procedure, Fick underscored the need to partner with other governments and the private sector to ‘understand how digital technologies can help people exercise their human rights and reach their full potential.’
Glenn Gerstell, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Blinken’s trip highlights growing recognition from the government that the private sector plays a crucial role in national security issues. In the early days of Silicon Valley, tech operated with relative impunity from government regulations and responsibility.”
“Confidence in tech companies is down, and people will be more suspicious of everything. There is a long tradition in the US of being wary of government having too much power to surveil its citizens,” said Joshua Tucker, co-director of the Center for Social Media and Politics at NYU and senior adviser at security solutions firm Kroll.