US warned to learn from UK over cyber threats from Russia
It comes as the Trump Presidency continues to reel under pressure from the Russian hacking scandal, with claims that his associates may have communicated with Russian operatives to coordinate the release of stolen data damaging to Hillary Clinton's election campaign.
Though China, North Korea and Iran also hack, Russia now poses the most sophisticated nation-state cyber threat, and was “using organised crime to carry out attacks”, said Richard Ledgett, the National Security Agency’s number two official.
Last week four Russians – two FSB Russian intelligence officers and two criminal hackers – were indicted for breaking into 500 million Yahoo email accounts.
'Russia now poses the most sophisticated nation-state cyber threat', says NSA's Ledgett
The veteran spy revealed that during another cyber attack, a foreign government hackers found breaking into a government security network waged “hand to hand combat” with NSA cyber defenders.
We should look at the model of our close partners the UK of one central cyber centre
Paul Abbate – FBI assistant director
“Once we detected them, instead of disappearing, they fought back," he told the Aspen Institute think tank.
"It was basically hand-to-hand combat. There was a 24-hour period of parry-riposte, parry-riposte, countermeasure and countermeasure. That was new; a new level of interaction between a cyber attacker and defender. It was a game changer.”
Proof that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and leaked data to sway last year’s election outcome was “irrefutable”, he added.
Russia is using 'using organised crime to carry out attacks', says Richard Ledgett
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Agreeing the US would face the same threat during next year’s 2018 mid-term elections and again in 2020, he said: “This is a trend, going back to the Cold War days of disinformatzia (Russian misinformation and use of real data for its own ends). It’s about getting info like DNC data to help shape public opinion. It’s hard to detect and hard to defend against.”
Asked whether the US should copy Britain’s new one-stop-shop National Cyber Security Centre, opened recently as part of GCHQ, Paul Abbate, the FBI assistant director in charge of the cyber crime, said: “Yes, we should look at the model of our close partners the UK of one central cyber centre – it’s certainly true that parts of our organisations need to collaborate more.”
Assistant director Ledgett added: “Every study we've ever done boils down to two things: integration and agility. We have neither. The idea of having a single entity with people that leverage the assistance of all agencies and can apply them without having to go back to headquarters each time has merit.
“Currently, its like your house catching fire, and you call the Mayor to see if they can go to the water department to ask them to put on the water, then you go to the city council to get funding so that fire department can send a truck to your house. By that time’ cyber house has burned to the ground.”
The National Cyber Security Centre has recently opened as part of GCHQ
Reacting to the comments, NSCS CEO Ciaran Martin said: “We are spearheading an ambitious programme of initiatives that will make the UK the hardest target for potential adversaries. This work is underpinned by world-class research, staffed by some of the best people in technology anywhere in the world.”
Last week FBI Director James Comey announced a formal investigation into president Trump’s campaign ties with Russia. FBI sources have said this centres around President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is said to have secretly worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to advance Russian interests.
Spilling tensions led to a major row within Congress’ House Intelligence Committee, with its chairman, Devin Nunes, claiming that the Obama administration spied on Trump while its most senior Democrat, Adam Schiff, said he had new information on Trump’s collusion.
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Alex Ward, of the Atlantic Council think tanks said: “President Trump has now accepted the fact that Russia tried to influence the elections, though he still does not admit he was involved. He is more interested in pursuing claims that the Obama administration wiretapped him during the election campaign.
“The House Intelligence Committee is usually the last place for bipartisan politics. Now we have this massive breakdown in decorum, with both sides throwing accusations.
“Whatever the truth of these claims, Vladimir Putin is having the best year of his political life.”