The following is a transcript of an interview with cybersecurity expert and analyst Christopher Krebs that aired on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, March 12, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And turn now to Chris Krebs, who is former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He’s also a CBS News expert and analyst. It’s good to have you here.
CHRIS KREBS: Morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Before we get to what’s happening with the Silicon Valley Bank, I want to ask you about what has happened with this data breach. We learned on Wednesday that certain members of the House and Senate were told personal data, including like home addresses and social security numbers, was taken from a D.C. health insurance provider. It’s like 56,000 people. And then that information is being sold–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –Online. Who’s behind this?
KREBS: So a cybercriminal, known as IntelBroker, and it’s not clear immediately who that person is, where they live. But they have been involved in previous data breaches and attempting to sell information on certain dark web markets. And the point here is that you steal the information, and someone buys it, and then they can monetize it through fraud and identity theft, and things like that. So IntelBroker has previously claimed that they had access to U.S. federal agencies. This is a different case, though, where they’ve actually taken information, they’ve put it online, and made it available for sale. FBI was able to get in and buy some of this information. It’s not clear if by buying that information, it was deleted on the other end. But you know, that’s what happens in this very, very vibrant cybercriminal ecosystem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what more does the U.S. government need to do to protect- you know, I mean, some of these staffers and lawmakers are at risk here. How do you protect against that? And is this a state actor? Is there any involvement?
KREBS: You know, it’s not- again, it’s not clear who the actor is. It’s a cybercriminal. It’s very possibly a Russian-linked cybercriminal. Russia allows a very pervasive environment and permissive environment for cybercriminals. It actually helps the kind of broader Russian strategic objective to undermine confidence in the U.S.’s ability to protect citizens. It actually brings a significant amount of revenue into Russia. But what happens next is kind of the question. So for one, some of the markets where IntelBroker was selling this information, they’ve actually deactivated the IntelBroker account reportedly, in part because these markets don’t want undue attention. They don’t want the FBI coming in and shutting it down. So they try to stay below the radar, same kind of thing happened after the Colonial Pipeline breach that we spoke about about a year and a half, two years ago. So what will happen now is if the information is available for sale, who buys it?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
KREBS: Likely, again, fraudsters, but also possibly security services of our adversaries that are looking to get information on members of Congress for building their own portfolios and dossiers. Political operatives could buy it for opposition research and other- and other purposes. But the hope is that by kind of shading them out of the market and the FBI’s disruptive operations, they can ensure that this is not weaponized. This is not information that’s used for nefarious purposes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You talk to tech companies and startup companies, I know. A number of the businesses that had their accounts or loans with Silicon Valley Bank are very worried right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They don’t have access to cash, even just to pay employees. What are you hearing? Like what is the level of panic here?
KREBS: The biggest challenge right now I think these companies- and again, it is 50% of VC-backed U.S. companies–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Venture capital.
KREBS: –banked with Silicon Valley. It’s approximately 60,000 companies. The challenge they’re having right now is that they don’t have access to information in addition to access to their money. I’ve talked to a number of companies that are banked with SVB, with Silicon Valley Bank, and they’ve not heard anything over the weekend. Here’s the challenge, though. Most companies pay- issue payroll on the 15th and the last day of the month. The 15th is Wednesday. To make payroll on this upcoming Wednesday, you have to have that money in the bank tomorrow to process. By not having access to information, what money they will have access to tomorrow to process payroll, they’re now lining up alternative sources of funding. In some cases, we’re seeing predatory loans. So it would be very helpful, as Congressman Khanna pointed out, if we could get some clarity on the situation. And as the Secretary mentioned, some guarantees for those depositors in place today. If the deal comes through today and access to funding is open tomorrow, that’s fantastic. But we’ve got to have some certainty and these company executives need information, they need clarity on what’s happening so they can take care of their employees or otherwise–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
KREBS: we’re gonna see furloughs next week in the tech industry.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well and you heard the Treasury Secretary say we are in touch, or through the FDIC, are in touch with depositors. But you are also saying publicly there needs to be clear statements of confidence to shore things up–
KREBS: Well, again-
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you didn’t get that.
KREBS: We’re not getting that right now. And I think this is again, what Congressman Khanna was talking about with the speed of Twitter. Information travels so quickly. Yes, you can have runs on the bank. But you also need to get that information out there in the hands of the 60,000 companies that are banked there, over 250,000 FDIC insured limits so that they can also communicate to their employees. No one wants to miss a paycheck.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
KREBS: And there are millions of employees with paychecks at stake next week.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I did think it was interesting, because some have said to me, you know, these are medium size, small companies, startups. This isn’t big, bad Wall Street, right, it’s a little bit more politically easy to convince the public if you want to step in and help smaller businesses. But that- what’s happening there with the politics of this?
KREBS: Well, in part, I think that most of your viewers probably hadn’t even heard of Silicon Valley Bank until Thursday night, Friday morning. But this really is the economic engine of the United States of America. This is the innovation engine. This is a lot of the future, that tech competition that we talked about with China and others. This is where it’s happening. These are the front lines, we really need to ensure that the depositors, again not the shareholders in the bank, but the depositors in the bank have certainty. So we don’t see further runs on tech friendly banks next week, at- going to systemically important banks. We really need this diversity in the banking system. So we don’t concentrate risk at the top and have a much more fragile banking industry.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The next few hours may be key. And we’ll be watching for any update on that. I know we’ve heard the Israeli Prime Minister spoken on this. The British Finance Secretary has spoken on this, now the Treasury Secretary. We’ll see what comes together in the next few hours. Chris, good to have your analysis.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’ll be back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.