Are U.S. superspies at NSA getting into fight against ordinary hackers?

NSA gives security advice to banks, heads up Pentagon cybersecurity.

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"We know adversaries have full unfettered access to certain networks," according to an interview in the Reuters story with Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI. "Once there, they have the ability to destroy data. We see that as a credible threat to all sectors, but specifically the financial services sector."

Henry wouldn't name the adversaries, but neither would RSA, when it ended a six-month investigation of the crack of its SecureID database on a "nation state" that was also probably the culprit behind attacks on defense contractors L3 Communications, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

McAfee did name China as the culprit behind a five-year string of successful attacks focused mainly on the oil and gas industries, in a report published in February.

Judging by the organizations it attacks and information it seeks – competitors of Chinese companies and information on dissident individuals, groups and countries (Taiwan) – China is more interested in preserving its own internal order than disrupting that of others, especially "others" like the United States, that owe it a lot of money.

Semi-government-controlled organized criminal groups in Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe, non-state-centered terrorist organizations in the Middle East, unfriendly countries such as Iran that have respectable hacking capabilities of their own, however are a much more serious threat to both the infrastructure and financial institutions of the U.S., according to whole series of reports from security firms, government agencies and universities collectively filed under the Pending Disasters category in the Library of Congress."

Alexander refused to give details about the help NSA is giving banks, but did agree with Pentagon officers who said the strategy of the U.S. Cyber Command was to add more offensive capability as a deterrence, rather than simply improving defenses to reduce the number of successful intrusions.

Though security is better now on Wall Street and in the military than it was even a year or two ago, Alexander told Reuters, "tremendous vulnerabilities" remain, as demonstrated by recent attacks on Google, NASDAQ, Lockheed Martin and others.

"If they’re getting exploited, what about the rest? We have to change that paradigm,” Alexander told Reuters.

Photo Credit: 

Reuters: Jason Reed

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