NSA Nominee Confirms Ukraine Is Under Cyberattack

Michael Rogers warns the U.S. is also vulnerable.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
March 11, 2014, 10:54 a.m.

A top U.S. mil­it­ary of­fi­cial said Tues­day he be­lieves hack­ers are at­tack­ing Ukrain­i­an com­puter and com­mu­nic­a­tions net­works — but he de­clined to point the fin­ger at Rus­sia.

“In an open un­clas­si­fied for­um, I’m not pre­pared to com­ment on the spe­cif­ics of na­tion-state be­ha­vi­or,” Vice Adm. Mi­chael Ro­gers told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee when asked wheth­er Rus­sia is us­ing cy­ber­at­tacks against Ukraine. Ro­gers cur­rently runs the Navy’s cy­ber unit and is Pres­id­ent Obama’s nom­in­ee to head both the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand.

“Clearly cy­ber will be an ele­ment of al­most any crisis we are go­ing to see in the fu­ture. It has been in the past. I be­lieve we see it today in the Ukraine. We’ve seen it in Syr­ia, Geor­gia. It in­creas­ingly is be­com­ing a norm,” Ro­gers said.

Ukrain­i­an of­fi­cials have said in re­cent weeks that gov­ern­ment, me­dia, and tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions sys­tems have come un­der cy­ber­at­tack. The at­tacks were de­signed to jam com­mu­nic­a­tions and hinder the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the crisis in Crimea, the of­fi­cials said.

Ukrain­i­an sys­tems are also re­portedly in­fec­ted with a cyberes­pi­on­age tool de­signed to spy on the com­puter users.

Dur­ing Tues­day’s Sen­ate hear­ing, Ro­gers poin­ted to the cy­ber­at­tacks in Ukraine as an ex­ample of “what is not ac­cept­able.”

He said the United States may con­sider of­fer­ing “spe­cif­ic tech­nic­al as­sist­ance” or oth­er meas­ures to help Ukraine de­fend its net­works.

Ro­gers warned that the United States is woe­fully un­der­prepared it­self for a cy­ber­at­tack. He said one of his top pri­or­it­ies will be bet­ter de­fense of gov­ern­ment com­puter sys­tems.

“The real­ity is that the net­work struc­ture of today re­flects a dif­fer­ent time and a dif­fer­ent place,” he said. “It’s only a mat­ter of time, I be­lieve, be­fore we start to see more de­struct­ive activ­ity.”

The NSA nom­in­ee urged Con­gress to en­act le­gis­la­tion that would en­able the gov­ern­ment and private sec­tor to share in­form­a­tion about cy­ber­at­tacks and set cy­ber­se­cur­ity stand­ards for crit­ic­al in­fra­struc­ture, such as banks and elec­tric util­it­ies. Ro­gers iden­ti­fied li­ab­il­ity pro­tec­tion for busi­nesses that share in­form­a­tion as a “crit­ic­al ele­ment” in cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion.

Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said he is “very close” to an agree­ment on in­form­a­tion-shar­ing cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion with In­tel­li­gence Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein.

The House passed its own cy­ber­se­cur­ity bill, the Cy­ber In­tel­li­gence Shar­ing and Pro­tec­tion Act, last year. But the sur­veil­lance leaks by Ed­ward Snowden have heightened pri­vacy con­cerns and dampened en­thu­si­asm for any le­gis­la­tion that may ex­pand the NSA’s ac­cess to data.

Ro­gers said he sup­ports Pres­id­ent Obama’s plan to re­move the massive data­base of phone re­cords from the NSA’s con­trol. He prom­ised to be trans­par­ent and said the agency must do a bet­ter job com­mu­nic­at­ing with the pub­lic.

“I wel­come a dia­logue on this top­ic, and I think it’s im­port­ant for us as a na­tion,” he said, re­fer­ring to the de­bate over sur­veil­lance and pri­vacy. “I look for­ward to be­ing part of that dia­logue.”

Al­though Ro­gers said Snowden’s leaks have harmed U.S. na­tion­al se­cur­ity, he de­clined to call the NSA leak­er a trait­or.

“But I cer­tainly would not use the word hero,” Ro­gers said.

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