US Control Systems Have Been Hacked By Nation States – NSA Director Warns “This Is Not Theoretical”

“The cyber threat is real, this is not theoretical.” – National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers.

At a hearing in Washington today of the House Intelligence Committee, National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers discussed the nation’s cyber vulnerabilities.  Roger set out the three missions of the US Cyber Command: defend DOD’s network, generate a cyber commission force, and provide DOD capability to defend critical infrastructure.

According to Rogers, multiple nation states have already developed the capability to shut down our industrial control systems.  Specifically, this means that these nation states can shut down or forestall the control systems that control our water, power, financial systems, and aviation.  Not only that, Rogers states that these nation states have already been discovered hacking into these systems.

Nation states are not the only actors with the capability to launch a cyber attack.  According to Rogers, organized crime groups also pose a risk to our nation’s security.  These groups penetrate systems to gain information that they can sell on illegal markets.  Rogers predicted a terrifying future  trend: nation states using these groups as surrogates to create plausible deniability.

Rogers pointed to the absence of international norms in cyberspace as reason for our expanding cybersecurity risks.  According to Rogers, this deficiency has resulted in the appearance of an online world without consequences.  When Congressman Jim Hines asked Rogers what types of norms should be set, his first response dealt with emergency response.  According to Rogers, an emergency response norm would involve an agreement not to attack a nation’s emergency response capabilities.  Other norms mentioned by Rogers included norms protecting critical infrastructure, intellectual property, and anything else that could lead to loss of life or loss of control.

On the one hand, it is not surprising that it is taking time to develop these international cyber norms.  Rogers compared the current cybersecurity risks to nuclear risks during the Cold War, pointing out that the policy of deterrence did not develop overnight. However, Rogers also suggested that the current cyber threat presents additional problems.  While the execution of the nuclear threat was originally limited to a few nation states with the finances and power necessary to carry out that threat, the current cyber threat is not restricted by those obstacles.  In addition to nation states, groups and individuals are able to carry out cyber attacks individually.  Moreover, Rogers pointed out that unlike the nuclear model, developing the capability to perform a cyber attack is inexpensive.

For news coverage of the hearing: Business Insider, Washington Times, ABC News, Bloomberg.

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Authors

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. She is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography

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