The most senior intelligence official in the US has given evidence to policymakers outlining growing international threats posed by insecure IoT networks, increasingly-clever artificial intelligence and ever-sophisticated virtual reality.
Although admitting that new technology will help out his staff, director of national intelligence James Clapper said:
The consequences of innovation and increased reliance on information technology in the next few years on both our society’s way of life in general and how we in the intelligence community specifically perform our mission will probably be far greater in scope and impact than ever.
Devices, designed and fielded with minimal security requirements and testing, and an ever-increasing complexity of networks could lead to widespread vulnerabilities in civilian infrastructures and US government systems.
As has already been proven with the hacking of baby monitors, he told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:
In the future, intelligence services might use the loT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.
Pointing to issues already seen in the stock market given its reliance on algorithmic trading, he believes that artificial intelligence systems will increasingly be able to be disrupted or deceived without humans being able to tell what’s happened. Here Clapper identified particular challenges for critical infrastructure and national security networks.
The annual ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community’ report, which also looked at conventional security problems, now highlights that the ability to create virtual avatars and grab data via facial recognition could pose new unknown threats.
Interestingly, ‘foreign data science’ also gets a mention in his cyber threat analysis:
This field is becoming increasingly mature. Foreign countries are openly purchasing access to published US research through aggregated publication indices, and they are collecting social media and patent data to develop their own indices.
Beware the makers of new indices…
Clapper points the finger for potential users of these more innovative methods at those that the US has ongoing geopolitical issues with: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, as well as “non-state actors.”
Terrorists continue to use the internet to organize, recruit, spread propaganda, collect intelligence, raise funds, and coordinate operations. In a new tactic, ISIL actors targeted and released sensitive information about US military personnel in 2015 in an effort to spur ‘lone-wolf attacks.’
‘Ransomware’ designed to block user access to their own data, sometimes by encrypting it, is becoming a particularly effective and popular tool for extortion for which few options for recovery are available.
Policymakers have so far looked to weaken encryption in a bid to ensure protection from outside threats. This does not, however, fit well with Clapper’s assessment that weak networks will be the problem in 2016 and beyond.
➤ Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence via Reuters]