Top national security officials stress need for collaboration in cyberspace

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — The United States’ adversaries are trying to steal the nation’s top secrets, top Cyber Command and National Security Agency officials say, and protecting the American people from these threats takes both the private and public sectors.

“Cybercom’s mission is to play the away game and to execute operations outside of the United States that keep us secure,” Maj. Gen. Joe Hartman, deputy commanding general of U.S. Cyber Command, told ABC News’ Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas. “On a daily basis, whether it’s nation-state, malicious cyber actors trying to steal secrets, whether it’s ransomware actors — every day our adversary gets up and attempts to execute operations against the United States. They’re not going to stop and neither are we.”

Hartman oversees Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force, comprised of more than 2,000 military and civilian personnel — focused on securing and protection U.S. national interests from foreign-threat actors.

The NSA has an entire center dedicated to collaborating with partners.

“So NSA has been in cybersecurity for a really long time,” said Morgan Adamski, the chief of the NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center. “And we’ve shared our deep insights into foreign cyber-actor activity as well as our technical expertise, but the way that the actors are working now, they’re working so quickly. We had to kind of adapt to the way that we were sharing that information.”

She said the NSA engages with partners at a “rapid” speed to share information.

Acting in the cyber world “is part of our daily life,” Hartman said.

“What we see with adversaries is they will execute broad-scale operations,” he added, referencing Russia’s role in last year’s SolarWinds hack.

The intrusion, believed to be carried out by Russia, involved software from SolarWinds, which makes IT management tools, that had been adulterated or “trojanized” with a vulnerability that could be exploited by hackers to steal information, manipulate systems or plant trap doors and other exploits for future use.

It gained access to nine government agencies.

“They executed operations against thousands of targets, ultimately to provide them access and to use that access for future operations,” he said in reference to the attack.

Cyberspace is “extraordinarily dynamic,” Hartman said.

“Cyberspace is the one domain that changes on a daily basis,” he said. “And our adversaries pay attention to that. We need to pay attention to it. And as I think you’re aware, when a vulnerability is identified, the quicker we are able to mitigate that vulnerability, the safer you are at home on your personal computer and the safer we are as a nation. But again, it is dynamic and it changes daily.”

Rob Joyce, who serves as the senior adviser for cybersecurity strategy to the director of the National Security Agency, told ABC News that the NSA was not always a collaborative environment.

“NSA throughout history works in the secret area. We work with secrets. That doesn’t make us open and collaborative. But what we’ve found is, the things we know are not useful unless we do something with it. Collaboration is the act of taking the secrets we know and getting those out to operationalize them.”

He said the NSA has some of the best cyber experts in the world and employs some of the best cyber people In the country.

“It’s all about the mission. It’s about the outcomes, and that drives us to work together,” he said.

Joyce said even he could be susceptible to a phishing email and that systems need to be brought up to speed.

“We’ve got to have the systems that are resilient, and we’ve got to react fast and understand when we’ve been penetrated, so then we can take action to get that threat out of the system,” he said.

ABC News Jack Date contributed to this report.

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