WASHINGTON — Former CIA Director Michael Hayden Tuesday described cybersecurity threats as a “darkening sky” but “not as dark as some suggest.”
Hayden, who was CIA director from 2006 to 2009 and director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, said one of the biggest problems is the blurring of lines between state actors and individuals in terms of who is conducting the attacks.
“It is getting hard to distinguish who actually is doing this because we are seeing this collapse of the lines of nation state actors, criminal gangs, and the disaffected,” Hayden told the Heritage Foundation.
Because the government responds by category of “actor,” Hayden said, the blurring of lines has become a complicated issue for the government. The criminality of an individual actor is in a different category than that of a nation state, Hayden said.
Furthermore, Hayden said the threats are getting worse – the sky darker.
“Everyone who wills us harm is more capable today than they were yesterday,” he said. “It’s the nature of the domain.”
But there is room for optimism. Hayden told the think tank audience that the private sector can bridge the gap for the government in cybersecurity defense.
Hayden said “the long premise is you need to start thinking about enabling the private sector rather than thinking about how the government is going to respond.”
David Shedd, the former acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency agreed. Shedd said the government should “then take advantage of what the private sector is doing” and use private sector capabilities for protection and stopping data breaches.
Hacking has been a prominent issue is the 2016 election campaign.
In early October, the Obama administration officially accused the Russian government of involvement in hacking in an attempt to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. The Russians have been accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee, as well as election systems in various states. The FBI said it believes the Russians could also be behind the email hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
“My personal view is they are not trying to pick a winner,” Hayden said. “… Both political parties are using Russian action to create talking points.”
Hayden said the Russians acquiring the emails of the DNC was “unfortunately honorable state espionage” – in other words, what can be expected.
“I would not want to be in an American court of law and be forced to deny I never did anything like that as the Director of the NSA, because I could not,” Hayden said.
However, Hayden said the use of the internal emails to potentially influence the U.S. presidential election is the more serious issue, a covert influence operation. Hayden said he’s glad the U.S. government publically called out the Russians and he thinks the U.S. should finger foreign powers involved in cyber attacks more often.
On Sunday, GOP vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence has said he believes the Russians have been involved in the hacking. However, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has not agreed that Russians are the culprits.
Notably, Hayden, a retired Air Force general who served under President George W. Bush, joined 49 Republican national security experts in signing a letter in August declaring Trump unfit for the presidency and a danger to the country.