To that end, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen provided an update on U.S. efforts to combat cybercrime while speaking at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence at the 14th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon 2022) held in Tallinn, Estonia. He also called upon allied states to strengthen their partnerships with the U.S. and one another. Specifically, he pointed to trade remedies, sanctions and diplomatic efforts, along with other traditional law enforcement strategies, as key tools to address these issues.
“Today, many of our gravest national security threats manifest in cyberspace,” Olsen said. “The National Security Division is responsible for going after malicious cyber activity by nation-state actors and their proxies. This is an area where we have seen a dramatic increase in the complexity and intensity of threats.”
Appropriately, the theme of CyCon 2022 was “Keep Moving,” something law enforcement and prosecutors will have to do in a multitude of ways. “If taken figuratively, the discussion will revolve around challenges posed by constant evolution of technologies and threats, and ways of formulating and coordinating our response,” according to the event's organizers. “In the literary sense, we are interested in cyber security of transportation and supply chain, military mobility or autonomous technologies and automation.”
Olsen warned of specific threats coming from adversarial nations like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, with extra emphasis on the former. Those threats include stealing intellectual property, trade secrets and technology, exerting malicious influence over democratic processes, attacking critical infrastructure and harboring information on U.S. citizens.
“Our strategy is to use all the legal tools and authorities we have available. One of our core authorities is the enforcement of U.S. criminal laws and we continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals for malicious cyber activity,” Olsen said. “We do this because it is essential to hold these individuals accountable, and because it is one way we can inform the public about the nature of the threats we face.”
For example, the DOJ announced charges earlier this year against a cohort of Russian nationals suspected to be working with their government to threaten energy infrastructure in the U.S. over a period of several years between 2012 and 2018. Another case alleges a Russian national and military research institute member attempted to hack an industrial control system in the U.S. and abroad. “The goal was to physically damage the safety functions of these systems,” Olsen said.
Olsen emphasized the importance of cooperation when combating these threats, as well as employing a diverse array of anti-cybercrime tactics. Prosecutions, for example, are only a part of what the DOJ toolbox has inside. “This is why even where arrest is unlikely, the department prioritizes the disruption of criminal activity that poses a threat to national security through other legal tools like search and seizure,” Olsen said. “Recently, DOJ has taken more proactive steps to disrupt nation-state cyber threats before a significant attack or intrusion can occur and using tools beyond traditional criminal charges.”