Hostile cyber operations in the future are likely to turn to data manipulation to compromise the integrity of information, moving beyond the current types of hacks that are frequently focused on theft and denial of service, the top United States intelligence official told a House panel on Sept. 10.
“In the future I believe we’ll see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information to compromise its integrity,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee. “In other words, compromise its accuracy and its reliability instead of merely deleting it and disrupting access.”
The consequences of data manipulation get down to trust, Clapper warned.
In his prepared statement for the committee, Clapper said that if data is successfully manipulated, “Decisionmaking by senior government officials (civilian and military), corporate executives, investors, or others will be impaired if they cannot trust the information they are receiving.”
Clapper also stated in his prepared remarks that cyber operations against data integrity “would need to overcome any institutionalized checks and balances designed to prevent the manipulation of data, for example, market monitoring and clearing functions in the financial sector.”
Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of United States Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, also told the committee that one of the future threats he worries about is data manipulation, “so we start to question the validity of what we all are looking at.”
Rogers also said that potential threats he worries about include attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure and terrorists’ use of the World Wide Web as a weapon instead of a way to spread ideology and raise money.
Clapper said the current threat of cyber espionage “undermines the confidentiality” of data while denial of service operations and the deletion of data “undermine availability.”
As he stated in a report earlier in 2015 on the intelligence community’s assessment of the overall global threat, Clapper told the committee that catastrophic cyber attacks are less likely while there will continue to be “low-to-moderate level cyber attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative cots on U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.”
Clapper said the disclosure of recent cyber hacks, such as the theft of personnel information from the Office of Personnel Management, has reinforced his belief in the need for a Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), which President Barack Obama directed the establishment of in February to connect the dots when it comes to malicious cyber threats to the United States.
Current entities and centers across the federal government are getting better at carrying out their cyber responsibilities but now is the time “to knit together all of the intelligence these activities need to defend our networks, because while these entities may be defending different networks they are often defending against the same threats,” Clapper said, adding he appreciates the committee’s support for the CTTIC.
Clapper noted previous reports that Russia’s Defense Ministry is standing up its own cyber command, citing Russian military officials as saying the new organization “will be responsible for conducting offensive cyber activities, including propaganda operations and inserting malware into enemy command and control systems.” He adds that “Russia’s armed forces are also establishing a specialized branch for computer network operations.
There is no evidence that China is establishing a similar cyber command, Clapper said, although he said in his statement that although that country has advanced capabilities, “Chinese hackers are often able to gain access to their targets without having to resort to using advanced capabilities.”