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Shaping Intelligence Policies for Cyberattacks

09 Jun 2020
By Dr Sajad Abedi
Stylised lock and motherboard pattern. Source: jaydeep_

Intelligence operations play an important role in life and security. As individuals, companies, and governments increasingly find themselves victims of cyberattacks, intelligence organisations must adapt their operations to contain such threats.

The American people, both directly and through their representatives, are more focused on organising and conducting the work of intelligence agencies than ever before.  Not surprisingly, there have been suggestions of the transformation of intelligence organisations and the US’s intelligence systems beyond the public’s awareness. Foreign countries are demanding security infrastructure be developed, and many people inside these countries also need to understand such changes. Many of the organisational methods and structures that had proven successful over the years have experienced significant failures, especially in case of the September 11 attacks and Saddam Hussein’s weapons designs in Iraq.

Information managers and many other people often do not agree with such changes in information technology. They tend to prefer to deal with marginal issues because information is constantly coming in, and it is time consuming to make such sweeping changes. For example, in 1986, William J. Casey, former head of the CIA, created a counterterrorism centre. He believed that the centre created the necessary coordination in design and operation, and analysts were working in the immediate vicinity of the operators. However, many of the older members of the CIA and intelligence operations threatened their places and those of operatives under their control. With the advent of advanced communications technologies and equipment, this new era creates new conditions that require specific new security measures.

With the development of sophisticated and advanced technology and tools, the need for personal care and protection against potential damage has become increasingly important. “I do not want to live in a country where all telephone calls are heard,” said National Security Agency staff member Edward Snowden, speaking to The Guardian. With regard to Snowden’s disclosures and information available today, no citizen, organization, or institution in the United States and many other countries has the necessary security and privacy.

In today’s world, nearly half of the global population has access to the Internet. Companies, institutions, and governments often require computers and communications tools for their employees’ daily work. As such, the issue of computer security for governments and institutions, as well as ordinary people, has become an important strategic issue. Some developments in recent years, such as the failure of Estonia’s part of the computer system in 2007, the theft of Pentagon servers in 2012, and the damage the Stuxnet malicious worm has caused to Iran’s nuclear program since 2010, have further exacerbated the idea that cyber-attacks are among the main threats to governments, societies, and the world economy.

In 2011, a news release revealed that China has the world’s largest spy organisation. The breadth of the Chinese spy organisation and the diverse range of its intended targets, namely, companies, governments, and international organisations, as well as its dedicated equipment, have made the organisation’s activities an unprecedented hit of information.

In such a situation, against the background of Internet risks, the provision of information security based on defensive solutions seems to be more premature. Information invaders appear to have asymmetric digital weapons capabilities, yet the existing support tools are defensive and concentrate on confronting a limited range of threats. With weaknesses in government intelligence systems and a sense of state immunity from potential threats, intruders can exploit intelligence to exacerbate their practices on a larger scale and with larger and more ambitious dimensions.

Nowadays, the defects and shortcomings of information systems and computer networks, and the aggravation of its results, are increasingly used to target sensitive infrastructure, militaries, and governments. Malicious cybercrime is considered an act of war and requires retaliatory information (retaliatory protection) or physical retaliation. In the same vein, the White House has emphasised the right to defend itself against cyber-attacking operations in the “International Strategy for Cyberspace” document. These elements have led to the possibility of creating appropriations, weapons, and organisations aimed at cyber defence in a broader context than previous documents of cyber defence strategies (e.g. National Level Approach Strategy); the main and final goal of which should be the passage of a fixed defence strategy based on “lines Magnifico defences” and to create an approach with wider security solutions.

Thus, many countries have almost clearly stated that they are demanding the development of their cyber-defence capabilities (that is, they want to be equipped with “Ad hoc” command and counter-attack equipment) to be able to respond to attacks that may become the main infrastructure of the intelligence sector.

Dr Sajad Abedi is a Resident Fellow at the National Defense and Security Think-Tank in Iran and a Postdoctoral Student at University of Tehran. He is a member of the Advisory Board of Cyber Security Research Center at Islamic Azad University.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence, and may be republished with attribution.