During a panel discussion at the CNBC @Work conference in San Francisco, Matt Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and Sue Gordon, former principal deputy director for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,
The U.S. Department of Justice formalized an increasingly important component of the national security apparatus into the Justice Department’s hierarchy on Tuesday by announcing the creation of a new branch under its National Security Division focused on investigating cyber threats from nation-state and state-backed hackers.
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen said the new unit would enable the DOJ’s national security team “to increase the scale and speed of disruption campaigns and prosecutions of nation-state threat actors, state-sponsored cybercriminals, associated money launderers, and other cyber-enabled threats to national security.”
State-sponsored cyber actors have been aggressively targeted by the DOJ, particularly those from China or North Korea. China has been highlighted as a key cybersecurity issue by national security officials outside of the DOJ, including the top cybersecurity official for the United States.
Chinese cyber activities, which CISA Director Jen Easterly referred to last week as a “epoch-defining threat,” were not included in the announcement. However, Olsen highlighted the work that the DOJ has been undertaking to counter Chinese cyber activities at a separate discussion held on Tuesday at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Olsen noted at the occasion that “China has compromised telecommunications firms.” In order to impede the free flow of information, it engages in cyber breaches that target journalists and opposition figures. Additionally, the PRC has the ability to execute cyberattacks that might damage vital U.S. infrastructure.
Top government and business officials have long been concerned about corporate and industrial espionage, especially as Chinese businesses attempt to advance and create comparable technology, supposedly on the backs of American ingenuity or research.
A China-backed cyber gang that was looking for data and intelligence “impacted” the Navy, the Secretary of the Navy said last month.
The announcement did highlight the danger presented by Russian malware and ransomware gangs, which experts and practitioners see as more dangerous than Chinese intrusions but less well-planned and strategic.
While Chinese hacking groups have “lived off the land,” acquiring data and intelligence, Russian and North Korean groups frequently try to extort their victims for money, creating income for themselves or their governments.
Due to the global reach of the hacker groups, developing charges against them might take years and not necessarily result in an arrest.
“NatSec Cyber will serve as an incubator, able to invest in the time-intensive and complex investigative work for early-stage cases,” Olsen stated.