Computer hackers and cyber criminals are carrying out attacks against businesses and nation states because they believe there’s “little price to pay” for stealing sensitive data.
That’s according to Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and head of United States Cyber Command, who was speaking at a cyber security conference at Fordham University in New York.
His comments come a month after a massive cyber attack against Sony, which the US believes was carried out by North Korea – although there are a number of security experts who disagree with that claim.
The current number of cyber attacks represents “one of the biggest transfers of intellectual knowledge that we have ever seen,” said Rogers, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
The NSA chief warned that a different cyber security strategy needs to be implemented if the trend of worsening cyber attacks is to be reversed.
“What we’ve seen in the last six to nine months in general… trends are going in the wrong direction,” Rogers said. “Doing more of the same and expecting different results, my military experience tells me, is not a particularly effective strategy.”
The US government wants organisations to work more closely with it by reporting incidents of cyber attacks more promptly. However, with Edward Snowden’s NSA surveillance revelations still fresh in the memory, there’s still corporate distrust of government security programmes.
Speaking in an interview with US broadcaster PBS, Snowden inferred that the US could have itself to blame for being the victim hacking attempts, arguing that attacks originated from US authorities – such as the Stuxnet programme against Iran in 2011 – have created a bitterness against the country and its infrastructure.
The whistleblower also suggested that the NSA should concentrate on defending the US against attacks, rather than hacking into the networks of other nations and their leaders.
“So the way the United States intelligence community operates is it doesn’t limit itself to the protection of the homeland,” said Snowden.
“It doesn’t limit itself to countering terrorist threats, countering nuclear proliferation. It’s also used for economic espionage, for political spying to gain some knowledge of what other countries are doing. And over the last decade, that sort of went too far,” he explained.
“No one would argue that it’s not in the United States’ interests to have independent knowledge of the plans and intentions of foreign countries,” Snowden continued.
“But we need to think about where to draw the line on these kind of operations so we’re not always attacking our allies, the people we trust, the people we need to rely on, and to have them in turn rely on us,” he said. “There’s no benefit to the United States hacking Angela Merkel’s cell phone.”
Snowden went on to discuss how the powers of the NSA should be restricted.
“It’s becoming less and less the National Security Agency and more and more the national surveillance agency. It’s gaining more offensive powers with each passing year,” he said.
“It’s gained this new Cyber Command that’s under the director of NSA that by any measure should be an entirely separate organization because it has an entirely separate mission. All it does is attack,” Snowden continued.
“Because when we lose a National Security Agency and instead get an offensive agency, we get an attack agency in its place, all of our eyes are looking outward, but they’re not looking inward, where we have the most to lose,” he said.

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