Cyberattacks from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are increasingly sophisticated and, until recently, were done with little concern for the consequences, top US Department of Defense cyberleaders told a US Congress committee on Wednesday.
US Army General Paul Nakasone, head of the US Cyber Command, laid out the escalating threats, following a US Navy review released this week that described significant breaches of naval systems and concluded that the service is losing the cyberwar.
Speaking during a subcommittee hearing, Nakasone said that the US is now prepared to use cyberoperations more aggressively to strike back as the country faces growing cyberattacks and threats of interference in next year’s US presidential elections.
The US military learned a lot working with other government agencies to thwart Russian interference in last year’s midterm elections and the focus now has turned to the next election cycle, he said.
The US Navy report underscored long-known cyberthreats from Russia and China that have plagued the US government and its contractors for more than a decade.
It said that there were “several significant” breaches of classified Navy systems and that “massive amounts” of national security data have been stolen.
Data has been stolen from key defense contractors and their suppliers, the report said, adding that “critical supply chains have been compromised in ways and to an extent yet to be fully understood.”
The report, ordered by US Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, concluded that while the navy is prepared to win in conventional warfare, that is not the case for the ongoing cyberwar.
The US federal government in December last year charged two alleged Chinese hackers with breaching computer networks as far back as 2006 and suggested that they could be linked to the theft of personal information from more than 100,000 navy personnel.
In addition, the US was caught off guard by widespread Russian interference in the 2016 election, including the use of social media to influence voters and sow dissent among the electorate.
Lawmakers peppered Nakasone and US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano with questions about what the military is doing to respond to cyberbreaches, and deter countries like Russia and China.
Rapuano acknowledged that for years the US did not sufficiently respond to cyberattacks by other nations, particularly as the breaches did not rise to the level of a conventional military response.
Deterrence is about imposing consequences and “historically we have not done that,” he said.
That strategy is changing, but officials also have a deliberate approval process for offensive cyberoperations, including some that require presidential approval, he added.
The Pentagon would soon issue a memo outlining how the US National Guard would be able to use department networks and systems to help foil cyberattacks on the US, Rapuano said.
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