Cybercom Chief Details U
Cybercom Chief Details U.S.
Cyber Threats, Trends
By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. – (DoD
News) – November 21, 2014 – Cyber threats are real, hurting the nation and
its allies and partners, costing hundreds of billions, and potentially leading
to a catastrophic failure if not addressed, Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers told a
House panel yesterday.
U.S. sailors assigned to Navy Cyber Defense Operations
Rogers, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the
National Security Agency and chief of the Central Security Service, testified
before members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on
advanced cybersecurity threats facing the United States.
Cyber Challenges ‘Not Theoretical’
“There should be [no] doubt in anybody's mind that the cyber
challenges we're talking about are not theoretical. This is something real that
is impacting our nation and those of our allies and friends every day,” Rogers
Such incidents are costing hundreds of billions of dollars,
leading to a reduced sense of security and potentially to “some truly
significant, almost catastrophic failures if we don't take action,” the admiral
In recent weeks, cyber-related incidents have struck the
White House, the State Department, the U.S. Postal Service and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Defense Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and
the U.S. Treasury also have had cyber intrusions.
Sophisticated malware has been found on industrial control
systems used to operate U.S. critical infrastructure, and other major intrusions
have been reported by J.P. Morgan Chase, Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels, Yahoo!
Mail, AT&T, Google, Apple and many more companies.
Intrusions Seek to Acquire Capability
“We have … observed intrusions into industrial control
systems,” Rogers said. “What concerns us is that … capability can be used by
nation-states, groups or individuals to take down” the capability of the control
And “we clearly are seeing instances where nation-states,
groups and individuals are aggressively looking to acquire that capability,” he
Rogers said his team thinks they’re seeing reconnaissance by
many actors to ensure they understand U.S. systems in advance of exploiting
vulnerabilities in the control systems.
“We see them attempting to steal information on how our
systems are configured, the specific schematics of most of our control systems
down to the engineering level of detail so they [see] … the vulnerabilities, how
they are constructed [and] how [to] get in and defeat them,” the admiral said.
“Those control systems are fundamental to how we work most of
our infrastructure across this nation,” Rogers added, “and it's not just the
United States -- it’s on a global basis.”
Growth Areas of Vulnerability
When he’s asked about coming trends, Rogers said, industry
control systems and supervisory control and data acquisition systems, called
SCADA systems, come to mind as “big growth areas of vulnerability and action
that we're going to see in the coming 12 months.”
“It’s among the things that concern me the most,” he added,
“because this will be truly destructive if someone decides that's what they want
What it means, he said, is that malware is on some of those
systems and attackers may already have the capability to flip a switch and
disrupt the activity the switch controls.
“Once you're into the system … it enables you to do things
like, if I want to tell power turbines to go offline and stop generating power,
you can do that,” he explained. “If I want to segment the transmission system so
you couldn't distribute the power coming out of power stations, this would
enable you to do that.”
Criminals as Surrogates for
The next trend Rogers sees near-term is for some criminal
actors now stealing information designed to generate revenue to begin acting as
surrogates for other groups or nations.
“I'm watching nation-states attempt to obscure, if you will,
their fingerprints,” he said. “And one way to do that is to use surrogate groups
to attempt to execute these things for you.”
That’s one reason criminal actors are starting to use tools
that only nation-states historically have used, the admiral said.
“Now you're starting to see criminal gangs in some instances
using those tools,” he added, “which suggests to us that increasingly in some
scenarios we're going to see more linkages between the nation-state and some of
these groups. That's a troubling development for us.”
Such activities across the cyberscape, he said, make it
difficult for private-sector companies to try to defend themselves against
rapidly changing threats.
A Legal Framework for Cyber Sharing
But before Cybercom can help commercial companies deal with
cyber criminals and adversarial nation-states, Rogers said the command needs a
legal framework “that enables us to rapidly share information,
machine-to-machine and at machine speed, between the private sector and the
The framework, he added, must be fashioned in a way that
provides liability protection for the corporate sector and addresses valid
concerns about privacy and civil liberties.
Such legislation has passed in the House but not in the
Senate, and the Senate has created its own similar legislation that has not yet
passed the full Senate.
Rogers says there are several ways Cybercom can share what it
knows about malicious source code with the private sector so companies can
protect their own networks, and assure Americans that NSA isn’t collecting or
using their personal information while sharing information with private
What the Private Sector Needs
With private-sector companies, Cybercom and NSA must publicly
“sit down and define just what elements of information we want to pass to each
other,” he said, specifying what the private sector needs and what the
government needs, and also areas that neither wants to talk about.
“I'm not in that private-sector network, therefore I am
counting on the private sector to share with us,” the admiral said.
What he thinks the government owes the private sector is this
-- Here are the specifics of the threats we think are coming at you. Here’s what
it's going to look like. Here’s the precursor kinds of activities we think
you're going to see before the actual attack. Here’s the composition of the
malware we think you're going to see. Here’s how we think you can defeat it.
What Rogers says he’s interested in learning from the private
sector is this -- Tell me what you actually saw. Was the malware you detected
written along the lines that we anticipated? Was it different and how was it
different? When you responded to this, what worked for you and what didn't? How
did you configure your networks? What was effective? What can we share with
others so the insights of one come to the aid of many?
“That's the kind of back-and-forth we need with each other,”
Rogers said, and legislation is the only thing that will make it happen.
Helping Defend Critical Infrastructure
Rogers says he tells his organization that he fully expects
during his time as Cybercom commander to be tasked to help defend critical
infrastructure in the United States because it is under attack by some foreign
nation or some individual or group.
“I say that because we see multiple nation-states and in some
cases individuals in groups that have the capability to engage in this behavior,”
the admiral said, adding that the United States has seen this destructive
behavior acted on and observed physical destruction within the corporate sector,
although largely outside the nation’s borders.
“We have seen individuals, groups inside critical U.S.
infrastructure. That suggests to us that this vulnerability is an area others
want to exploit,” the admiral said. “All of that leads me to believe it is only
a matter of time when, not if, we are going to see something traumatic.”
Rogers says he’s “pretty comfortable” that there is broad
agreement and good delineation within the federal government as to who has what
responsibilities if Cybercom is called on during a major cyberattack in the
“The challenge to me is we've got to … get down to the
execution level of detail,” he said. “I come from a military culture [which]
teaches us to take those broad concepts and agreements and then you train and
you exercise. And you do it over and over. That's what we've got to do next.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)
Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers
U.S. Cyber Command
Special Report: The Cyber Domain
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