In this March 6, 2018, file photo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Coats warned July 13, 2018, that cyber threat warnings are “blinking red” with daily attempts by Russia and other foreign actors trying to undermine American democracy as well as water, aviation and electric systems.
Warning lights about cyber threats to U.S. national security are “blinking red” and the digital efforts to undermine America are occurring daily, not merely at election time, the nation’s top intelligence official said Friday.
Russia has become essentially the most aggressive foreign actor, but cyber threats also are coming from China, Iran and North Korea in addition to criminal networks and individual hackers, said National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.
Targets include U.S. businesses, the government, the military, state and local governments, academic and banking institutions and critical infrastructure, he was quoted saying.
“The Department of Homeland Security and also the FBI, in coordination with international partners, have detected Russian government actors targeting government and businesses within the energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors,” Coats said.
He compared the cyber threat today with how U.S. officials said before 9/11 that intelligence channels were “blinking red” with symptoms that a terror attack was imminent.
“Here were nearly 20 years later and I’m here to express the warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said.
Coats spoke at Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, after that the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking into Democratic email accounts through the 2016 U.S. presidential election and releasing stolen information inside months before Americans headed on the polls.
The Kremlin responded on the indictment by repeating its denial the Russian state interfered in the U.S. election.
Coats declared despite public statements through the Kremlin to the contrary, U.S. intelligence officials carry on and see individuals connected to the Internet Research Agency, operating out of St. Petersburg, Russia, creating new social media accounts masqueraded as that regarding Americans. He said the IRA, a so-called internet troll farm, then uses the fake accounts they are driving awareness of divisive issues in America.
“We are seeing aggressive tries to manipulate social networking and also to spread propaganda centered on hot-button problems that are meant to exacerbate socio-political divisions,” he explained.
Coats said the U.S. isn’t yet seeing the level of electoral interference in specific states and voter databases that occurred in 2016. “However, we define that were just single click on a keyboard from the same situation repeating itself,” he explained.
He emphasized that centering on possible election-related attacks, including in the November midterms, misses an essential point. He warned of the risk of a crippling cyberattack against critical U.S. infrastructure, a power outage in New England in January or possibly a cyber-attack on banks that wipes out people’s life savings.
“These actions are persistent. They’re pervasive plus they are meant to undermine America’s democracy over a daily basis, regardless of whether it really is election time you aren’t,” Coats said.