CYBERSECURITY

NSA Not Yet Pointing Finger at China as Suspect in OPM Data Theft (UPDATED)

6/24/2015
By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Adm. Michael Rogers

The National Security Agency is not yet saying whether China was to blame for the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management that resulted in the theft of millions of government worker records, according to its director.

Director of the NSA and head of U.S. Cyber Command Adm. Mike Rogers said — in response to a question during a speech at the GeoInt 2015 conference — that the process of attributing the OPM data breach is ongoing, and that he does not accept any “assumption” that the breach is attributable to China.

"I think first of all, I'm not getting into the specifics of attribution. That's a process that we're working through on the policy side. That's ongoing," he said. 

Revelations that millions of government employee records had been pilfered by hackers were followed by speculation in the media that China was to blame. An audience member asked Rogers how NSA had reached that conclusion. He said NSA hadn't.

"You put an assumption in your question. so I'm not going to accept your assumption," he said.

Attribution for a specific cyber security event is different depending on the actors involved, said Rogers. Attribution has come a long way, and it is no longer the challenge it was 10 years ago, he said.

“Sony is a good example of that,” said Rogers, referring to the theft of the movie studios emails, which the NSA attributed to North Korea.

Intelligence and security agencies in the U.S. government were able quickly come to a consensus that the characterization of the attack on Sony came from there, said Rogers.

“We are in a world in which increasingly data has value as a commodity to a wide range of people,” said Rogers, “and there’s a wide range of people, groups, and nation states aggressively seeking access to that data.”

The U.S. government has identified 16 segments of the private sector that represent critical importance to the nation’s security, said Rogers, such as financial, transportation, and power. A breach of data at financial institutions could lead to a destruction of their business model and long-term viability, he said. This is a problem that requires increased investment, Rogers said.  

Historically, intellectual property as well as research and development work were the primary targets of cyber attacks, said Rogers. Recently, large data sets have increasingly become the target of attacks, he said. This is due to the power of big data analytics, he said. This is causing groups to attempt harvesting massive amounts of data. 

Continually responding to individual incidents involving data security is not a winning strategy, said Rogers. Both government and private sector organizations will be in a constant fight to safeguard networks and data, said Rogers.

The Defense Department is currently investing time in identifying where there are massive amounts of data susceptible to breaches in order to maintain security, said Rogers.

The ability to remain mobile and maintain a digital interface is part of the foundation of daily private and professional life, said Mike Rogers. These wireless and mobile technologies present vulnerabilities to the security of data, however, it is not an option to disregard them and their application for possible mission outcomes, he said. The risks must be acknowledged, and an attempt must be made to mitigate that risk, Rogers said.

Lines of communication are becoming blurred, Rogers said. He likened the digital communication space to a super highway of information that everyone is traveling on. The challenge becomes what are the right cars to monitor, he said. Monitoring all the cars in the highway is an un-workable strategy and goes against the principles of the United States. 

Clarification: Story clarifies remarks made by Rogers on attribution of OPM hack. 

Topics: Cyber, Cybersecurity

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