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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

GAO: Comprehensive Strategy Needed to Overcome Cyber Threats

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the federal government needs to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to overcome the cyber threats facing the United States.

In recent years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has seen Chinese state-sponsored hackers relentlessly looking for ways to compromise unpatched network devices and infrastructure.

This year, in June, the FBI announced that Chinese state-sponsored hackers targeted and breached major telecommunications companies and network service providers since at least 2020. The same month, a phishing campaign targeted U.S. organizations in military, software, supply chain, healthcare, and pharmaceutical sectors to compromise Microsoft Office 365 and Outlook accounts. In April, the United States removed Russian malware from computer networks around the world, and a social media platform disrupted two Iranian-linked cyber espionage campaigns that targeted activists, academics, and private companies in countries including the U.S. by using phishing and other social engineering techniques. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control attributed a March 2022 hack of Ronin Network to a North Korean hacking group and announced sanctions against the hackers.

These are just a few examples of recent attacks by nation states. The U.S. must also counter against attacks from cyber criminals. The deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy said in May that criminal hackers are also able to act in a disruptive manner and greatly impact the American way of life, such as with last summer’s attack on Colonial Pipeline.

“Differentiating between the criminal hacker and the nation state hacker complicates the defense of the nation,” Mieke Eoyang said. “Further complicating the issue is that some nations, while they may not have ever directly perpetrated a cyber attack on the U.S., do make themselves hospitable to criminal hackers who are interested in benefiting from such attacks.”

Previously, in September 2020, GAO reported that the prior administration’s 2018 National Cyber Strategy and associated 2019 Implementation Plan addressed some, but not all, of the desirable characteristics of national strategies. GAO recommended that the National Security Council work with relevant federal entities to update cybersecurity strategy documents

In 2021, Congress established the Office of the National Cyber Director to lead the nation’s cybersecurity effort. The Office was created to overcome challenges posed by cyberspace, such as nation-state actors and criminals stealing Americans’ personal information due to social engineering in cyberspace. Since June 2021, the Director has outlined the strategic statement for the Office and has hired staff. 

As of August 2022, the Office reported that it had about 55 employees, which could grow to around 75 employees by the end of fiscal year 2022. One of the Director’s key appointments was the deputy National Cyber Director for federal cybersecurity, who also serves within the Office of Management and Budget as the federal chief information security officer. According to the Director, the dual-hat role is intended to provide budget and cybersecurity expertise within the Office.

As of August 2022, according to the Office, the development of a national cybersecurity strategy by the administration is well underway. The Office told GAO that it is obtaining feedback on the strategy from many other federal entities, including the National Security Council, on this effort.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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