NSA, Israeli, UK cyber chiefs confront new hacker threats in corona era

INCD Chief Yigal Unna said that bad actors “are intervening more in the cybersphere because it is harder for them to go out and make trouble in the physical world.”

A man types into a keyboard during the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. (photo credit: REUTERS/STEVE MARCUS)
A man types into a keyboard during the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
(photo credit: REUTERS/STEVE MARCUS)
Cyber chiefs for the US’s Nation Security Agency (NSA) and intelligence agencies in Israel and England highlighted cutting-edge hacker threats in the coronavirus era on Thursday.
A video conference panel sponsored by Cybertech included NSA Cyber Director Anne Neuberger, Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) Chief Yigal Unna, England National Cyber Security Center CEO Ciaran Martin and Maj. Gen. (ret.) and Tel Aviv University’s cyber director Isaac Ben-Israel.
Unna said that bad actors “are intervening more in the cybersphere because it is harder for them to go out and make trouble in the physical world.”
He also discussed Israel’s three categories for defining the importance and threat faced to Israeli infrastructure public and private entities.
Unna revealed that the makeup of these three threat levels is constantly changing, noting that in a recent survey of government ministers, his unit was informed of a wide range of new infrastructure systems that needed to be secured.
Neuberger emphasized the importance of “understanding what our adversaries might seek to accomplish in disrupting, degrading or using [access to networks] to maintain awareness of how our country provides services to citizens to influence that.”
She said by keeping tabs on these issues, the NSA and other US cyber agencies can provide “timely, actionable and useful threat information and technical advice about what is at risk.”
Neuberger emphasized that for the civilian sector, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, not the NSA, took the lead in communicating to the public.
She said there is, “a need for the public to trust [agencies] in order to take action on the advice given.”
Further, she added that trust could vary by sector, especially in sectors where there were larger volumes of operators who might be less familiar with each other.
Also, she noted that in the US, elections had been added to the list of critical infrastructure categories.
In Israel, the election agencies get special assistance from the INCD, but are not under the same kind of set oversight.
Martin said that he really appreciated Israeli perspectives on cyber issues, noting that in 2015 he came to Israel to discuss strategy after deciding that prior British cyber defense plans had failed.
While acknowledging those past issues, he said that in the coronavirus era when so many people are using online networks for their livelihood and to connect to family and friends, it is critical “not to make people panic about the security of technology.”
Moreover, while agreeing with Unna that some cyber crime syndicates had greatly expanded in the coronavirus era in which vulnerabilities and online use has expanded exponentially, he said at least one major cyber crime syndicate had fallen 47% due to physical world limitations on their activities.
Ben Israel said it was key that cyber defense outreach to the civilian sector, “should not be part of some intelligence or military organization, [because] people don’t really trust their intelligence services.”
Likewise, he said civilian cyber defense should not be handled by a law enforcement agency, because civilians refrain from seeking assistance out of concern that those agencies might probe them for some other unrelated legal violation.
Ben Israel emphasized that in the coronavirus era, understanding the psychological issues that people were coping with was as important for success as tackling the virus’s biological dangers.