Deputy AG Rosenstein announces cyber threat measures while in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Deputy AG Rosenstein announces cyber threat measures while in Aspen

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced Thursday while in Aspen the release of a report that provides a detailed assessment of the cyber threats facing Americans.

The report is a follow-up to a cyber digital task force that was established in February by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Rosenstein, who announced last week the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, was met with a standing ovation in the Greenwald Pavilion on the Aspen Institute campus. He was speaking during the second day of the Aspen Security Forum.

He referred to comments made by National Intelligence Director Dan Coats last week. Coats also spoke Thursday as part of the security forum.

Rosenstein agreed with Coats that the country's digital infrastructure is under attack.

"Our adversaries are developing cyber tools not only to steal our secrets and mislead our citizens but also to disable our infrastructure by gaining control of our computer networks," Rosenstein said.

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Combating cybercrime and threats is a top priority for the Department of Justice, and the report explains how the agency is working toward the effort in different categories.

They include direct damage to computer systems, data theft, cyber-enabled fraud schemes, threats to personal privacy and attacks on critical infrastructure.

The main focus, however, is what Rosenstein called "maligned foreign influence operations," which refers to actions undertaken by a foreign government, often overtly to influence people's opinions and advance foreign nations' strategic objectives.

"The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential campaign is just one tree in a growing forest; focusing merely on a single election misses the point," he said. "These actions are persistent, pervasive, they are meant to undermine democracy on a daily basis regardless of whether it's election time or not."

The cyber digital task force report identifies five different types of maligned foreign-influence operations that target the United States' political circumstances.

Cyber actors can target election infrastructure by trying to hack voter registration data and systems, which happened in 21 states in 2016, Rosenstein said.

He added that while no evidence exists that vote totals have been altered, the threat is real and that can erode confidence in the American people.

Second, cyberattacks can target political organizations and campaigns, as well as political officials, by stealing information and publishing it online — and alter it before doing so.

Offers can be made to assist political campaigns or officials by individuals who conceal their alignment to a foreign government.

Adversaries also can use misinformation for propaganda to influence Americans. Foreign trolls can spread false stories online about candidates and try to pit Americans against one another.

Lastly, government-controlled media and lobbyists can insert themselves into a campaign without the public realizing what source their information is coming from.

To combat all of that, Rosenstein said government intelligence agencies and departments play an important role, and local and state governments must secure their election platforms and networks. Finally, citizens need to understand the playing field, Rosenstein said.

He said public indictments on individuals who commit cybercrime are effective and act as deterrents.

"Wanted criminals are less attractive as employees and co-conspirators," said Rosenstein, which drew a laugh from the audience. "Do not underestimate the long arm of American law or the resolve of American law enforcement."

csackariason@aspentimes.com