Multiple US agencies were compromised in the attack, including Defence, State, Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce, as well as the Department of Energy’s National Security Administration, which is responsible for the country’s nuclear arsenal.
Mr Trump on Saturday contradicted his secretary of state’s assessment that Russia was “pretty clearly” behind the attack.
“The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control,” Mr Trump tweeted.
“Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!).”
….discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA. @DNI_Ratcliffe @SecPompeo
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Webin, said at a press conference on Monday that China has been a major victim of hacking and is a “staunch defender” of cybersecurity that stands against all forms of cyberattacks.
That claim is disputed by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division, which published an advisory with the FBI in September warning hackers linked to the Chinese government have repeatedly attempted to compromise federal government networks.
In its latest advisory issued following the SolarWinds hack that Mr Trump has deflected toward China, CISA warned the threat poses a “grave risk” to all levels of US governments and private organizations but did not identify its source.
White House officials had drafted a statement on Friday calling Russia the “main actor” in the attack but were ordered not to release it, according to The Associated Press. Mr Pompeo identified Russia in an interview around the same time that announcement was scheduled to be released before it was shelved.
“This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Mr Pompeo said.
“I can’t say much more as we’re still unpacking precisely what it is, and I’m sure some of it will remain classified.”
Asked by a reporter if China specifically denies involvement in the SolarWinds attack as suggested by Mr Trump on Saturday, Mr Wenbin said the “frivolous and self-contradictory” accusation was driven by a political agenda to smear and blame China.
“We resolutely oppose such practices. The United States has long been politicising cybersecurity issues and spreading disinformation with no concrete evidence to slander China, taint China’s image and mislead the international community. ” Mr Wenbin said.
“Such words and deeds are inconsistent with the international standing of the United States. We hope it will take a more responsible stance on cybersecurity issues.”
Mr Wenbin added: “On the issue of cybersecurity, the US, with its poor record, is in no position to point fingers at other countries.
“We hope all sides can work together to build a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyberspace.”