Candidates trade barbs on cybersecurity

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sparred over whether Russia was behind a recent spate of cyberattacks on U.S. targets.

Shutterstock image. Copyright: Albert H. Teich

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump argued that there is no definitive proof that Russia was behind the recent cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee. Photo credit: Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock

Cybersecurity took a leading role in the national security section of the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, with Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blaming Russia for recent attacks on U.S. targets and Republican rival Donald Trump saying there was uncertainty about the culprit or culprits.

"Increasingly, we are seeing cyberattacks coming from states, organs of states," Clinton said. "The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There's no doubt now that Russia has used cyberattacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this."

She called special attention to recent hacks targeting the Democratic National Committee and said the U.S. should consider making a more robust response to such attacks.

"We need to make it very clear -- whether it's Russia, China, Iran or anybody else -- the United States has much greater capacity," she said. "And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information -- our private-sector information or our public-sector information. And we're going to have to make it clear that we don't want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don't want to engage in a different kind of warfare. But we will defend the citizens of this country."

Trump responded by saying, "I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but...it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed [who] weighs 400 pounds, OK?"

Clinton called out Trump for earlier remarks that seemingly requested cyberattacks at U.S. political targets, which he said at the time were intended as a joke.

"I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to hack into Americans," Clinton said. "That is just unacceptable."

The two candidates were closer together on the proliferation of recruitment messages and propaganda by the Islamic State group.

"When you look at what ISIS is doing with the internet, they're beating us at our own game," Trump said.

Clinton said her plan to defeat Islamic State militants "does involve going after them online. I think we need to do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the internet to radicalize, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere."

Both candidates acknowledged the importance of cybersecurity and its place in the arsenals of U.S. and foreign militaries.

"I think cybersecurity, cyberwarfare will be one of the biggest challenges facing the next president because clearly we're facing...two different kinds of adversaries," Clinton said, referring to state and non-state actors.

Trump turned the lens on his own family to characterize the issue. "We have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyberwarfare. It is...a huge problem. I have a son. He's 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it's unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it's hardly doable."

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