In light of Robert Mueller’s indictment charging 13 Russians for meddling in US politics, the Justice Department has announced the formation of a “Cyber-Digital Task Force” that will study the ways adversaries could use the Internet to interfere in future elections and damage critical infrastructure.
Sessions’ announcement did not mention Russia by name, but intelligence agencies have already warned that Moscow will probably try to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections in November.
“The Internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments,” said Sessions on Tuesday. “At the Department of justice, we take these threats seriously. That is why today I am ordering the creation of a Cyber-Digital Task Force to advise me on the most effective ways that this department can confront the threats and keep the American people safe.”
Members of the task force will include representatives from the ATF, FBI, DOJ, and DEA. Sessions sent a memo about the formation of the new agency to department heads last Friday, the same day Mueller announced the indictment.
In the memo, Sessions outlined “pressing cyber threats” including:
- Efforts to interfere with critical infrastructure
- Efforts to interfere with elections
- Use of Internet to spread violent ideologies and recruit followers
- Theft of corporate, government, and private information
- Use of technology to frustrate or circumvent law enforcement
- Use of technology to mask criminal activity
- Use of technology to weaponize everyday consumer devices
“Evaluating these threats, and formulating a strategy to combat them, should be among the task forces’ highest priorities,” wrote Sessions.
Sessions’ concerns are backed by the Carnegie International Endowment for Peace, which in January warned that the US is “reliant on an inadequately guarded cyberspace and should anticipate that future conflicts, online or offline, could trigger cyber attacks on US infrastructure.”
The new task force has until the end of June to compile a report for Sessions describing the Justice Department’s current “cyber-related activities” and outline its initial recommendations for future action.
Author’s Note: This is a step in the right direction, but it is pitifully small compared to the problems of cybersecurity.
This Cyber-Digital Task Force needs to be a separate organization, perhaps even a branch of the military, and it needs a lot of resources. Security experts have already expressed concerns that Sessions’ task force lacks focus and is attempting to tackle too many complicated issues at once.