Top NSA cyber official points to ransomware attacks as key threat to 2020 elections


Anne Neuberger, director of the newly formed Cybersecurity Directorate at the National Security Agency (NSA), on Wednesday pointed to ransomware attacks as a key danger to the 2020 elections.

“Ransomware is really interesting — 4,000 attacks a day over the last number of years. … That is certainly something that would be a key concern for the elections,” Neuberger said at Billington CyberSecurity’s 10th annual summit.

{mosads}Neuberger noted that ransomware attacks in general would be a “focus” of the NSA’s Cybersecurity Directorate, which was announced in July and will be formally set up on Oct. 1. 

Ransomware attacks have become a key issue over the past few months as various entities such as cities and school districts have been hit by ransomware attacks, in which the attacker encrypts an IT system and demands payment before allowing the user access again. 

Beyond ransomware, Neuberger also emphasized that the Cybersecurity Directorate will zero in on cyber and national security threats from countries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. 

“In the intelligence community, we put a tremendous focus on countries, what their plans are and how they use cyber to achieve their strategic agendas, and each one does things a bit different because their strategic objectives are a bit different,” Neuberger said. 

She classified Russia as using “influence operations” to target the U.S., while she said China was focused on intellectual property theft and other cyberespionage.

Neuberger described Iran as “volatile” and North Korea as “creative” in the cybersecurity space, often using cryptocurrency schemes to compile money for the current regime. 

Neuberger was firm in her description of the approach the NSA would take if these countries or others tried to interfere in U.S. elections moving forward.

“We’re taking the same three-part approach: ensure there is threat intelligence, gain those insights, share that intelligence and be prepared to impose costs on an adversary when they attempt to influence our elections,” Neuberger said. 

Neuberger was appointed in July by NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone to serve as the directorate’s first director. Neuberger previously led the NSA’s Russia Small Group and served as the NSA’s chief risk officer. 

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