Long gone are the days when cybersecurity concerns existed solely in the domain of technology teams. Various organizations, from schools to government entities (at every level), to private companies alike have fallen prey to cyberattacks. May 2021’s Colonial Pipeline attack caused chaos and a temporary gas frenzy that brought awareness of the vulnerabilities of the technology we rely on to even the least technically minded American. Cybersecurity, and more specifically, the security of critical infrastructure immediately became an issue that the U.S. Government is taking very seriously.
As the pace of Russia’s incursion into neighboring Ukraine escalated three weeks ago, starting with a massing of troops on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas border and expanding quickly into a full-fledged military invasion, so too did the response of the United States and its Western allies. Initially, the Biden Administration proceeded cautiously, deciding against levying its harshest sanctions over concerns of how they would impact European and global economies and that a stepped approach offered the best chance for de-escalation of tensions. The government began by blacklisting two major state-owned banks that are tied to the country’s defense sector and five Russian nationals with close links to the Kremlin. The U.S. and its European allies also banned the Kremlin from raising new money in the U.S. and Europe and trading new sovereign debt in U.S or European markets. In addition, Germany unilaterally halted certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline which was set to go ahead sometime later this year, an action applauded by the U.S. who had long argued against the project fearing that it would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian fuel.
Throughout the end of 2021, the Biden administration intensified its crackdown on civilian organizations believed to be supporting China’s military. As a result, the U.S. Commerce and Treasury departments, acting pursuant to the president’s June 3 Executive Order, recently unleashed a barrage of economic sanctions by effectively blacklisting more than forty Chinese companies, tech firms, and research institutes. Such far-reaching measures have ensnared prominent businesses across a variety of industries, including facial recognition specialists, artificial intelligence companies, and the world’s largest producer of commercial drones, DJI Technology Co. Those targeted were added to either the Commerce Department’s entity list, which blocks trade with U.S. exporters of software and other technologies, or to a Treasury list restricting access to American investment. Placement on the Treasury’s list can be especially damaging to an organization’s financial stability because the agency’s policies not only bar those sanctioned from transacting with domestic businesses but also prohibit American investors from taking stakes in companies on the list. Unsurprisingly, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry quickly denounced the sanctions as an “unwarranted suppression” of Chinese enterprises. Some of the listed companies themselves also publicly criticized their presence on the blacklists, including the artificial-intelligence start-up SenseTime Group which called the accusations against it “unfounded.” U.S. officials, however, defended the decision – citing both national security threats and human rights violations as causes for the sanctions.