DNC hack shows evolving nation-state threat


President Obama's top homeland security advisor said that recent hacks against political targets in the U.S. illustrate the escalating nature of cyber threats from sophisticated attackers.

Lisa Monaco, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said she didn't want to "get ahead" of ongoing investigations into hacks like the one that hit Democratic National Committee systems, but she said the U.S. has a framework in place to respond to nation-state attacks.

"We engage on a whole host of levels, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, military on these actors, whether they be China, whether they be non-state actors or terrorists," Monaco said at a Sept. 8 conference hosted by Atlantic Media. "People should not assume if they're not seeing it, we’re not doing it."

Monaco said that the U.S. approach is "driven by intelligence --  what the FBI and intelligence agencies gather and what can be shown officially to call out attackers."  

She pointed to the charges the U.S. filed in 2014 against five Chinese military officers for hacking into U.S. based systems to steal intellectual property as an example of the nuanced response.

Russia and other state actors "are continually trying to intrude upon our systems," she said. "That's government systems. That's private systems. That's public systems not in federal control. So they are an increasingly aggressive actor in this space. That is also true of China and Iran."

As Monaco was making her remarks about Russia and the DNC hack, a top Democrat on Capitol Hill was seeking info on how Russian hackers might be using social media to manipulate U.S. public opinion and the political process.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for help in determining if "Russian state actors" were using "bots" to manipulate the messaging platform.

Carper noted that DARPA has cautioned about the risk that bot activity on social network potentially poses "to the democratic process."  The agency, he wrote, "has sponsored efforts to create analytical tools to detect and address covert attempts to manipulate public opinion."

Carper requested information regarding Twitter's efforts to track and address the use of its platform by potential Russian actors. Carper gave Twitter until the end of the month to answer questions about how it identifies and counts false and spam accounts; its ability to tell whether those kinds of accounts are controlled by Russian state actors; and whether efforts to create serial or bulk accounts that could be used for "disruptive or abusive purposes" would violate the social network's terms of service.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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