Improving the sharing of information about cyber security threats and events within the federal government and between the private sector and the public sector is the next step that has to occur in combating terrorist and national security threats, a Justice Department official said on Tuesday.
With successes in “disrupting the flow of foreign terrorist fighters overseas,” the “face of terrorism today” exploits social media to urge terrorists to attack soft targets in their home countries and “to beat that threat we” have to go beyond the government restructurings following 9/11 that were aimed at better sharing intelligence and information within government and internationally, John Carlin, director of the DoJ National Security Division, said at the United States Chamber of Commerce Cybersecurity Summit.
“Our next challenge when it comes to terrorism and when it comes to other national security threats is one step further, and that is we need to get better at sharing information not just within the government but to the private sector and get better at receiving information back from the private sector,” Carlin said.
More businesses that are subject to cyber attacks and related thefts don’t inform the federal government, Carlin said. In a case involving a large retailer that had some personally identifiable information stolen from it by cyber thieves who threatened to release the data and embarrass the company unless it paid a ransom in Bitcoin, the business worked with government, Carlin said.
Turns out that in the retailer’s case it wasn’t low level cyber criminals but instead a foreign hacker that was selling the PII to a cyber terrorist who was working in Syria within the Islamic State, Carline said. The terrorist was using the stolen data to find U.S. government employees and military members and then publishing the PII on social media and telling terrorists in the U.S. to kill those people, he said.
This is a business that “suddenly was on the front lines of national security threats…because cyber compresses space and time,” Carlin said. “In order to combat that threat we have to be able to share information at the speed of the threat and have trust between the private sector and government on how we’re going to handle it,” and this will lead to “great successes,” he said.
Carlin pointed to the foreign hacker in the retail case being sentenced last week to 20 years in prison and a successful military air strike that killed the Syrian-based terrorist as the kind of success resulting from the private sector willing to share information with the government.
Technology is advancing more rapidly than cyber defenses can keep up and this means that cyber security has to be a group effort, Alejandro Mayorkas, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, said at the same conference. Mayorkas said that cyber security has to be “communal” when it comes to how the private and public sectors need to work together to keep pace with threats.
Mayorkas described a “neighborhood watch” model that will help build a “wall of cyber security” to better protect the country.
Carlin said that being able to track down cyber hackers and actors and then following up with various measures against these individuals and groups draws a “red line” that if crossed results in consequences. He said uncovering a group of Chinese military members that were committing industrial espionage against U.S. companies and North Korea’s attack against the computer networks of Sony Corp.’s. U.S.-based film entertainment business led to an executive order enabling sanctions against countries and individuals behind cyber economic crimes and to an agreement last year between China’s leader and President Barack Obama prohibiting cyber economic espionage.
In the case of Sony Pictures Entertainment [ADR], the company came to the government as soon as they realized their network had been hacked, Carlin said.
Once it became clear that North Korea hacked Sony, the debate became “okay, not what did Sony do wrong, government, what are you going to do to protect us against adversaries like North Korea and that pressure should be on us in the government,” Carlin said.