Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Attribution: OPM vs Sony

I read Top U.S. spy skeptical about U.S.-China cyber agreement based on today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing titled United States Cybersecurity Policy and Threats. It contained this statement:

U.S. officials have linked the OPM breach to China, but have not said whether they believe its government was responsible.

[Director of National Intelligence] Clapper said no definite statement had been made about the origin of the OPM hack since officials were not fully confident about the three types of evidence that were needed to link an attack to a given country: the geographic point of origin, the identity of the "actual perpetrator doing the keystrokes," and who was responsible for directing the act.

I thought this was interesting for several reasons. First, does DNI Clapper mean that the US government has not made an official statement regarding attribution for China and OPM because all "three types of evidence" are missing, or do we have one, or perhaps two? If that is the case, which elements do we have, and not have?

Second, how specific is the "actual perpetrator doing the keystrokes"? Did DNI Clapper mean he requires the Intelligence Community to identify a named person, such that the IC knows the responsible team?

Third, and perhaps most importantly, contrast the OPM case with the DPRK hack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. Assuming that DNI Clapper and the IC applied these "three types of evidence" for SPE, that means the attribution included the geographic point of origin, the identity of the "actual perpetrator doing the keystrokes," and the identity of the party directing the attack, which was the DPRK. The DNI mentioned "broad consensus across the IC regarding attribution," which enabled the administration to apply sanctions in response.

For those wondering if the DNI is signalling a degradation in attribution capabilities, I direct you to his statement, which says in the attribution section:

Although cyber operations can infiltrate or disrupt targeted ICT networks, most can no longer assume their activities will remain undetected indefinitely. Nor can they assume that if detected, they will be able to conceal their identities. Governmental and private sector security professionals have made significant advances in detecting and attributing cyber intrusions.

I was pleased to see the DNI refer to the revolution in private sector and security intelligence capabilities.

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