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SolarWinds Breach: Senate Hearings Begin While Americans Support Retaliatory Actions

Running Numbers by Brendan Helm

New Chicago Council public opinion data shows majorities of Americans across both parties support imposing additional sanctions against Russia.

On Tuesday, February 23, Senate hearings investigating the recent SolarWinds breach began, with executives from SolarWinds, Microsoft, FireEye, and CrowdStrike meeting in Washington to explain their firms’ actions in the wake of the monumental cybersecurity failure. The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), hopes to learn how the attack was able to go on undetected for so long, as well as how broad the attack actually is.  

The breach, which took place over several months, gave foreign actors inside access to a wide swathe of private US firms and US government agencies. While US intel agencies have blamed Russia for the attack, the Kremlin has denied responsibility. Though tech firms and the US government are those most affected by the breach, what do Americans think about this cyber-attack? 

Recent polling from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reveals that a majority of Americans (61%) have heard at least a fair amount about the attack, and this includes majorities of Republicans (59%), Democrats (69%), and Independents (55%). Just one in ten Americans says that they haven’t heard anything about it (10%). 

Asked how the United States should respond to this hack, majorities of Americans support imposing additional sanctions against Russia (75%), with strong bipartisan backing for this action. Moreover, just under half of Americans (44%) support conducting cyberattacks against the Russian government’s computer systems; similar proportions of Republicans (46%), Democrats (48%), and Independents (41%) approve of this measure.  

However, there is little support for more hawkish actions. Less than a quarter of Americans (23%) support conducting cyberattacks against Russian civilian infrastructure and just one in ten (10%) Americans supports conducting air strikes against Russian military targets.  

For more details on American opinion of the SolarWinds hack, check out the Chicago Council’s recent report

About the Author
Research Assistant
Council expert Brendan Helm
Brendan Helm is a research assistant for the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy and Public Opinion teams at the Council. After earning his undergraduate degree in international relations from the College of William and Mary, he worked at Teaching, Research, and International Policy—a survey project which examined the gap between academia and policymaking.
Council expert Brendan Helm