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January 11, 2013

Department of Justice Official Labels Cybersecurity the Most Significant Threat to National Security

When a cyberattack is under way, the motive behind the act is often missing. Is it an informant spying? Is it a domestic attempt at theft? Is it a mischievous teenager in his or her parents’ basement? Could it be an act of war? There is a growing need to be able to distinguish a prank from a serious hazard, and national security entities are tasked with properly identifying dangerous deeds and acting swiftly to combat the threat.

“We are already facing a death of a thousand cuts,” said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “That is persistent low-level cyberthreats that steadily undermine our national security and siphon off some of our most valuable resources.”

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco (video still from CSPAN)

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco (video still from CSPAN).

Synthesis and integration among all national security elements within the U.S. government are essential for “connecting the dots,” Monaco explained. As head of the National Security Division in the Department of Justice, Monaco is in charge of coordinating efforts between different national security stakeholders in the law to combat terrorism and other threats, and bridging the gap between intelligence and law enforcement capabilities.

At an ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security breakfast, Monaco identified cybersecurity as the No. 1 threat to the United States in the distant future and stressed the need for integration within the Department of Justice along with other areas of government and the legal community.

“The pervasiveness of cybertechnologies and the rate at which they change increases our vulnerability to attack,” Monaco said. “Technologies can obscure a perpetrator’s identity, can wipe away digital footprints and leave a very lengthy investigative trail.”

To facilitate sharing information and collaboration, the Department of Justice created a nationwide network of cybersecurity specialists from the National Security Division, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and every U.S. attorney office. The network is called the National Security Cyber Specialists, or NSCS. NSCS is modeled after existing networks such as the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council and Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property program, which were also tasked to close gaps and eliminate barriers to critical intelligence between national security parties.

Monaco recognized ABA President Laurel Bellows for prioritizing cybersecurity issues during her term and for assembling the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force to examine ways to help lawyers protect their practices and their clients. Monaco said she is hopeful that with the help of groups including the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security, the United States can make progress in fully integrating efforts to stay ahead of the cybersecurity threats as they emerge. While stressing the importance of keeping pace with the threat and enhancing efficacy, Monaco also maintained the importance of balancing the threats with the protection of privacy and civil liberties for American citizens.

“Responding to cyberthreats is both a challenge and a charge,” Monaco said. “The measures we take to respond to these threats must be sufficiently durable to stand the test of time and sufficiently flexible to accommodate the changing threat picture.”

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