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US State Department sets up cyber bureau amid hacking alarm

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday that the State Department will establish a new bureau and envoy to handle cyber policy, revamping amid alarm over rising hacking attacks.

In a memo to staff, Blinken said that a review showed a need for structural changes on “how the State Department should adapt to 21st-century challenges”.

He announced plans, subject to approval by Congress, to create a Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy with a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology.

“This structure will provide us with greater leadership and accountability to drive the diplomatic agenda within the inter-agency and abroad,” Blinken wrote.

He said he would provide more details in a speech on Wednesday at the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department’s training centre in suburban Washington.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the envoy will focus on “three key areas: international cyberspace security, international digital policy and digital freedom”.

The digital push comes amid increasing concern that the United States needs to prepare for prolonged conflict and disruption on the cyber front.

Hackers have struck numerous US companies this year. One such attack on pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline led to temporary fuel supply shortages on the US East Coast.

Two weeks ago the Treasury Department said suspected ransomware payments totalling US$590 million were made in the first six months of this year. It put the cryptocurrency industry on alert about its role fighting ransomware attacks.

Microsoft said on Monday that a Russian hacking group behind last year’s massive SolarWinds cyberattacks was behind a new assault against US and European targets.

The purported attack comes despite warnings by President Joe Biden during his summit in June with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. AFP

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