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: Now let’s turn to Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He is also a pundit and analyst for CBS News. Good to have you here.
CHRIS KREBS: Morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Before we get to what’s going on with Silicon Valley Bank, I want to ask you about what happened with this data leak. We learned Wednesday that some members of the House and Senate were told that personal data, including home addresses and Social Security numbers, had been obtained from a health insurance provider. This is approximately 56 thousand people. And then this information is sold –
MARGARET BRENNAN: – The Internet. Who is behind this?
KREBS: So the cybercriminal known as IntelBroker, and it’s not immediately clear who this person is, where he lives. But they have been involved in previous data breaches and attempts to sell information on certain dark web marketplaces. And the thing is, you steal information, and somebody buys it, and then they can monetize it through fraud, identity theft, things like that. Therefore, IntelBroker previously claimed that they had access to US federal agencies. However, it’s another case where they actually took the information, put it online and made it available for sale. The FBI was able to go in and buy some of that information. It is not clear whether the purchase of this information was deleted on the other end. But you know, that’s what’s going on in this very, very busy cybercrime ecosystem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What else does the US government have to do to protect — you know, I mean, some of these employees and lawmakers are at risk. How do you defend against this? And is this a statesman? Is there a connection?
KREBS: You know, it’s not – again, it’s not clear who the actor is. This is a cybercriminal. It is highly likely that this is a Russian-linked cybercriminal. Russia allows cybercriminals to create a very broad and permissive environment. It actually helps the broader Russian strategic goal of undermining confidence in the US’s ability to protect citizens. It really brings significant profits to Russia. But what will happen next – that’s the question. So, for example, some markets where IntelBroker sold this information have reportedly actually deactivated the IntelBroker account, in part because those markets don’t require excessive attention. They don’t want the FBI to come in and shut him down. So they’re trying to stay off the radar, the same thing happened after the Colonial Pipeline broke, which we talked about a year and a half, two years ago. So what happens now that the information is available for sale, who buys it?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
KREBS: Probably, again, fraudsters, but also possibly the security services of our adversaries who want information on members of Congress to build their own portfolios and dossiers. Political operatives could acquire it for opposition research and other and other purposes. But the hope is that by shielding them from the market and the destructive operations of the FBI, they can ensure that it is not a weapon. This is not information that is used for nefarious purposes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you’re talking to tech companies and startup companies. A number of businesses that had accounts or loans with Silicon Valley Bank are now very concerned.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They don’t have access to cash, even to pay employees. What do you hear? How is the panic level here?
KREBS: The biggest challenge right now, I think these companies — and again, this is 50% of American venture capital-backed companies —
MARGARET BRENNAN: Venture capital.
KREBS: – from Silicon Valley. These are approximately 60,000 companies. The problem they face now is that they don’t have access to information in addition to access to their money. I spoke to a number of companies that work with SVB, from Silicon Valley Bank, and they haven’t heard anything over the weekend. But here’s the problem. Most companies pay wages on the 15th and last day of the month. 15th – Wednesday. In order to make payroll next Wednesday, you must have that money in the bank tomorrow for processing. Without access to information about what money they will have access to tomorrow to process payroll, they are now lining up alternative sources of funding. In some cases, we observe predatory loans. So it would be very helpful, as Congressman Hanna pointed out, if we could clarify the situation. And, as the secretary noted, today there are certain guarantees for these depositors. If a deal happens today and access to funding opens tomorrow, that’s fantastic. But we have to have some certainty, and these company leaders need information, they need clarity about what’s going on, so they can take care of their employees or otherwise…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
KREBS: Next week, we’ll see vacations in the tech industry.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, and you heard the Treasury Secretary say that we’re in touch or through the FDIC we’re in touch with depositors. But you also publicly state that strong statements of confidence are needed to shore up the situation –
KREBS: Well, again…
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you didn’t get it.
KREBS: We don’t understand it now. And I think that’s what Congressman Hanna was talking about at Twitter speed. Information travels so fast. Yes, you can run along the shore. But you also need to get that information into the hands of the 60,000 companies out there, over 250,000 FDIC insured limits, so they can also notify their employees. No one wants to miss a paycheck.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
KREBS: Millions of salaried employees will be on the line next week.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I thought that was interesting because some people told me it was mid-sized, small companies, startups. It’s not big, bad Wall Street, it’s just politically easier to convince the public if you want to step in and help small businesses. But what is happening with the politics of it?
KREBS: Well, in part, I think most of your viewers probably hadn’t even heard of Silicon Valley Bank until Thursday night, Friday morning. But it is really the economic engine of the United States of America. It is the engine of innovation. That’s a big part of the future, that technological competition that we’ve talked about with China and others. This is where it happens. That’s the front line, we really need to make sure that depositors, again not bank shareholders, but depositors in the bank, have confidence. So next week we won’t see a further run on tech banks, but on 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 could be crucial. And we’ll keep an eye out for any updates on that. I know we heard the Prime Minister of Israel talk about that. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Minister of Finance, spoke about it. We’ll see what happens in the next few hours. Chris, nice to get the analysis.
KREBS: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’ll be back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.