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The Latest On The Massive Cyberattack On The U.S.


We're learning more about the massive cyberattack on governments, organizations and some of the world's largest corporations. The hackers appear to have a particular interest in technology companies. Today on Twitter, President Trump downplayed news reports about the attacks. And in doing so, he contradicted his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who called the hacking very significant. NPR's Greg Myre joins us. Greg, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Most of the discussion's been about the intrusion into U.S. government computer networks, but what do we know about the hacking of private companies?

MYRE: Well, this seems to be a big part of it. Microsoft is taking part in the investigation. They have hundreds of engineers working on this. And they found that while the hackers are going through government agencies, they're actually digging in even larger numbers into private companies and organizations.


BRAD SMITH: Already, we've identified more than 40 organizations, 80% of them in the United States, where they followed up, penetrated the networks, took additional steps. And as you indicated, that number is going to continue to rise.

SIMON: That was Brad Smith, head of Microsoft. And we'll hear more from him later in our broadcast. Greg, this seems to just be one of several examples where we're getting more information from private companies than the U.S. government. How do you read that?

MYRE: Well, it's a big threat to their businesses. So these tech companies, more than anyone else, want to keep hackers out of these systems. So it's absolutely a part of their self-interest. And the tech community broadly buys into this idea that sharing information is good for everyone in the community, so everyone can protect each other. And we really saw this back in the election season, as well. Private security - cybersecurity companies were sounding the alarm about the spread of misinformation. Social media companies were taking down fake users and false information that was getting out.

SIMON: And, Greg, how do you contrast with - well, with how the federal government is handling it or at least speaking out publicly about it?

MYRE: So we're about a week into the story at this point, and the Trump administration really had been saying very, very little. They hadn't attributed blame. And then on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo make the first comment to this effect, saying, quote, "We can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians." So this was the first attribution by the administration, was in line with what we'd been hearing elsewhere. But now very recently, in the last hour or so, we've had President Trump tweeting, I've been fully briefed, and everything is under control, which goes against what we've been hearing. And then he says, the media is afraid to discuss the possibility that it may be China - exclamation point. And we just haven't been hearing that, getting any signs from that from the intelligence community, from members of Congress. So this, you know, is a real contradiction and is out of the line with everything else that we've been hearing.

SIMON: The investigation into what happened, I gather, is still going on. How does the United States respond? Are there policy options?

MYRE: Well, there is no real playbook for this. And one thing that's important to understand is this hack seems to still be ongoing. They're still in - the hackers are still inside these computer networks. And the prediction is it'll take months and months to root them out. This is going to be a problem that President-elect Joe Biden will have to deal with.

And just one final note on the U.S.-Russia ties - the State Department says it's closing two remaining consulates in Russia, though the embassy in Moscow will remain open. We should emphasize this was in the works for some time, well before this news about the big hacking story. But it really puts an exclamation point on the state of relations.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Myre, thanks so much.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.