Analysts Discuss U.S. Cyber Security Threats
By JAMES PETERSON, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Cyber security experts discussed the road to full protection from hacking at the Defense One Tech Summit July 13. The three-person panel addressed the threat of recent cyber attacks and the Russian hacking of U.S. elections.
Greg Smithberger, chief information officer, National Security Agency/Central Security Service, said there is not a “silver bullet” when it comes to solving cyber defense.
“You can’t buy your way out of this,” he said. “You have to work your way out of it.”
Smithberger, however, clarified that the term “cyber attack,” saying it generally covers two types of hacking — intrusion and attacking. He said the difference between the two is based on intent.
“There are times when the intent of the cyber actor is only to gather proprietary information or something of more national security interest,” Smithberger said, “and there are other times when the intent of the actor is to actually deny, degrade, disrupt or destroy something.”
He went on to say that while intelligence gathering intrusion is “disturbing and annoying and needs to go away,” the intent to harm critical infrastructure is a “major concern.”
“They’re both problematic and we don’t want to see either,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to prevent and then contain and react to either. But people are really crossing the line when they are disrupting and destroying.”
According to Eric Rosenbach, co-director of Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, Russia already has crossed that cyber-attack line. He said the United States should be very concerned.
“When people think they can do something to you and get away with it, they’re much more likely to do it,” Rosenbach said. “My humble perspective is the Russians, and a lot of other bad guys, think that they can get away with putting malware in our grid, manipulating our elections and doing a lot of other bad things and get away with it.”
Stacey Dixon, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s deputy director, said that while the attacks may be troubling, they have been going on for decades. The solution, in her mind, is figuring out how to better address the incidents.
“The weakest link is always going to be the individual who doesn’t patch, who clicks the link,” Dixon said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to keep that from happening, so how do make sure we figure out a way to make the damage less damaging going forward?”
“The only answer is a layered set of defenses where you secure as many things as you do,” Smithberger said. “And then you relentlessly look for evidence somebody is knocking on the door or somebody got under the wire.”