SolarWinds hack may lead to breach notification law and stronger cyber agency

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One of the lesser-known aspects of the SolarWinds hack that lawmakers and top U.S. cybersecurity officials are grappling with is figuring out how many American companies and federal agencies have been affected. 



a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: From left, FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia, SolarWinds CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna and Microsoft CEO Brad Smith testify during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Feb. 23, 2021.


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From left, FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia, SolarWinds CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna and Microsoft CEO Brad Smith testify during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Feb. 23, 2021.

At present, no one knows.

This blind spot stems from the absence of a federal breach notification law that requires companies and federal agencies to notify the U.S. government if they have been hacked. That, however, may be about to change as congressional committees learn more about the SolarWinds hack and lawmakers in both chambers have signaled a bipartisan willingness to consider the idea. 

Last week, lawmakers summoned top tech company executives and the CEO of SolarWinds, the company whose software became the conduit for Russian intelligence agencies to access thousands of American companies and federal agencies. 

SolarWinds was hacked by Russian operatives who injected malware into routine software updates that went out to as many as 18,000 government entities and Fortune 500 companies that were clients of SolarWinds. Top U.S. government officials have said Russian intelligence services were behind the attack and that, as of now, nine federal agencies and about 100 companies were exposed but more victims are likely to be found as the probe continues.

Executives from FireEye, the cybersecurity company that found the Russian attack and made it public in December, Microsoft and SolarWinds told members of Congress that while they had come forward to share details of the attack, they were not obligated to do so and wanted Congress to address that gap. 

Without a law and clear guidance, companies don’t know whom to alert when they’re hacked, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said at a joint hearing of the House Oversight and Reform and House Homeland Security committees. 

Companies also face a legal barrier because contracts with federal agencies “restrict a company like Microsoft from sharing with others in the federal…

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