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US looks to keep sectors safe from cyberattacks

ap photo In this Feb. 17 file photo White House deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger speaks during a press briefing in Washington. The Biden administration has created an initiative aimed at helping critical industries, like the electric utility and water sectors, protect against damaging and destabilizing cyberattacks.

WASHINGTON — A top Biden administration official says the government is undertaking a new effort to help electric utilities, water districts and other critical industries protect against potentially damaging cyberattacks.

“Our aim is to ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block malicious cyber activity,” Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. “That’s it in a sentence. Clear, clean goal, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.”

The public-private partnership reflects the administration’s concerns about the vulnerability of vital systems, including the electric grid and water treatment plants, to hacks that could cause catastrophic consequences to American life. Though there is a history of government working with utilities, officials believe the threat has increased as more utility systems are connected to the Internet, and the Biden administration wants to make fast progress in blocking any attacks.

The administration, meanwhile, has grappled in its first 60 days with responses to two major cyber intrusions. In the first, Russian hackers snuck malicious code into a software update pushed out to thousands of government agencies and private companies. The second even more widespread hack affected untold thousands of Microsoft Exchange email servers, a breach the company says was carried out by Chinese state hackers.

Microsoft created a single -click tool to fix the issue after the White House encouraged the company to find a simple method for cleaning up from the hack.

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