International cyber relations don’t feel very warm, safe and fuzzy these days. This past week Robert Mueller, the U.S. special counsel to the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s possible meddling in the 2016 American elections, indicted 13 Russian nationals of creating information warfare propaganda campaigns. In the same week, Dan Coats, the United States Director of National Intelligence, issued his agency’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community. In that report the agency stated,
“The potential for surprise in the cyber realm will increase in the next year and beyond as billions more digital devices are connected—with relatively little built-in security—and both nation states and malign actors become more emboldened and better equipped in the use of increasingly widespread cyber toolkits. The risk is growing that some adversaries will conduct cyber attacks—such as data deletion or localized and temporary disruptions of critical infrastructure—against the United States in a crisis short of war.”
The report names Russia, North Korea and Iran as nation states that are most likely to launch cyber attacks on the United States. It also notes, “We expect the line between criminal and nation-state activity to become increasingly blurred as states view cyber criminal tools as a relatively inexpensive and deniable means to enable their operations.”Similarly, the Washington Post recently published an article on this subject of how hostile nations can hide behind “independent” hackers for hire to carry out their cyber war dirty work. It’s become difficult to discern who is a cyber terrorist acting on his/her own accord, and who is a mercenary of a hostile nation-state. Finding and punishing the perpetrators of course is a monumental task.