US President Donald Trump says he and Russian President Vladimir Putin will set up a joint cyber security unit to prevent election hacking and “many other negative things”.
Trump tweeted the curious plan to shield future US elections on Sunday following the two leaders’ first face to face meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg last week.
Trump also claimed to have “strongly pressed” Putin twice over the topic of Russian interference in the US election.
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion…..”, wrote Trump.
Just ahead of the meeting, Trump said it “could very well have been Russia” that meddled in the 2016 election but added that “nobody really knows for sure”. The prime focus of an investigation led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller into whether Trump’s campaign officials worked with another nation to sway the election has focused almost exclusively on Moscow.
Describing the meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Putin and Trump “acknowledged the challenges of cyber threats and interference” in elections and that both nations would “explore creating a framework” to help them understand how to deal with cyber threats to both democratic processes and critical infrastructure.
Tillerson said the pair had a “robust and lengthy” discussion over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” said Tillerson.
He said the relationship between the US and Russia was “too important” to allow unsettled differences over Russian interference to block a way forward, so the countries would established a new framework “to judge what is happening in the cyber world and who to hold accountable.”
The Washington Post reported on Friday that US officials had warned that advanced attackers were targeting energy and nuclear power firms for login and password details. Cisco's Talos security unit later detailed a new phishing attack on firms in the "energy sector, including nuclear power" that relied on Word documents in email attachments that download templates from a remote SMB server. The phishing attack differed from typical tactics that rely on Office macros or script to execute malware.
Putin said Trump “asked a lot of questions” about the issue of election meddling and again denied any involvement from Moscow.
“There is no basis to think that Russia interfered in the election process. What's important is that we agreed that the uncertainty on these matters cannot exist, especially in the future,” said Putin.
He said the framework wold entail a joint working group of experts who would help “find a way to control the cyberspace security together, ensure strict compliance with the international law in this area, (and) prevent interference in the domestic affairs of foreign countries."
Democrat and Republican politicians have criticized the idea of teaming up with Russia to protect US elections from cyber threats
“Partnering with Putin on a "Cyber Security Unit" is akin to partnering with Assad on a "Chemical Weapons Unit”,” tweeted Republican senator for Florida, Marco Rubio.
Republican senator for South Carolina, Lindsey Graham said it was ”not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it's pretty close”.
Democrat representative Eric Swalwell compared the pairing to “giving the alarm code to the gas who just burglarized your home”.