NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, who also heads U.S. Cyber Command, warned Washington lawmakers Tuesday that America’s enemies in the cyberspace realm “have grown more sophisticated and assertive” — especially Russia — which is increasingly attempting to undermine democracies across the world through cyberattacks.
Testifying to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Adm. Rogers also raised eyebrows by discussing a “worst-case scenario” cyberattack on critical infrastructure that instead of revealing data — such as a WikiLeaks hack — would entail the manipulation of vital national data on a “massive scale.”
“Advanced states continue to demonstrate the ability to combine cyber effects, intelligence, and asymmetric warfare to maintain the initiative just short of war, challenging our ability to react and respond,” the head of the National Security Agency told committee members in his opening remarks.
Other threats Adm. Rogers detailed included the increasing use of ransomware. Ransomware is used by criminals to kidnap, or lock, the data or intellectual property of an individual or business. To unlock the data and regain control of files, one must pay a ransom.
Adm. Rogers also addressed cyberattacks that disrupt the “daily lives of Americans.”
“We have seen states seeking to shape the policies and attitudes of democratic peoples,” he said. “And we are convinced such behavior will continue for as long as autocratic regimes believe they have more to gain than to lose by challenging their opponents in cyberspace.”
Last year, the U.S. intelligence community documented what appeared to be Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic National Committee staff emails and the private emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Adm. Rogers said NSA learned of Russian efforts to compromise U.S. political institutions in the summer of 2015 and warned the FBI and the Pentagon.
Last weekend, in the final days of the 2017 French presidential election, the eventual winner, Emmanuel Macron revealed that his campaign had been hit by a massive cyberattack.
Citing the French election hack, the committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, asked Adm. Rogers if U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA had seen a reduction in Russian cyberattacks.
“No, I have not,” Adm. Rogers replied, adding that the U.S. must be more assertive in calling out Russian cyberattacks. “They need to know we will publicly identify this behavior.”
Mr. McCain lamented America’s inability to expand policies that would enable the country to see cyberthreats through a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach. In his opening remarks, the Arizona Republican criticized President Trump’s administration for failing to to deliver a comprehensive cyber strategy, which it promised it would do in a Jan. 6 statement.
“But 90 days have come and gone, and no such policy and strategy has been provided,” Mr. McCain said.
“The very fact that each agency of government believes it is responsible for defending the homeland is emblematic of our dysfunction,” he added. “We have developed seams that we know our adversaries will use against us, yet we have failed to summon the will to address those seams through reform.”
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