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Thursday, February 22, 2018

DOJ steps up cybersecurity vigilance

T o bolster efforts to eliminate national cyber threats through detection, deterrence and disruption, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Feb. 20, 2018, ordered the U.S. Department of Justice to create a new Cyber-Digital Task Force. The new entity's assignment is to canvass global cyber threats and identify how federal law enforcement can more effectively thwart malicious attacks.

"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," Sessions said. "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 these threats and keep the American people safe."

Threats identified by Sessions run the gamut from disabling critical infrastructure to information theft and device exploitation, which impact both public and private sectors.

"Given recent events, I think everybody is worried about potential Russian hacking, or hacking in general, but I think regardless of the political aspects of it, it really outlines that people can do just about anything they want, if we don't protect ourselves, and that's true," said Darrel Anderson, President of Conformance Technologies LLC, an automated Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard-compliance and data protection provider serving over 500,000 small and midsize businesses globally.

"The federal government has been ratcheting this up for four or five years now, and really putting heat on the card brands, merchant associations, the banking associations, to step it up," Anderson said, noting that in monitoring larger client merchant portfolios in the private sector, there is not an hour that goes by that his firm doesn't flag suspicious activity, whether that be at the merchant end or someone attempting to exploit a merchant.

Broad sweeping government effort

On Jan. 5, 2018, in a separate but related development, the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a draft report to President Trump in response to a May 2017 Executive Order issued to strengthen the cybersecurity of federal networks and critical infrastructure. The report contains supportive measures to be taken by the government and private sector to reduce automated cyber-attack threats.

A memo addressed to the heads of department components expected to join the new task force stated that malicious use of technology poses an unprecedented threat to the nation. "While computers, smart devices, and other chip-enabled machines ‒ as well as the networks that connect them ‒ have enriched our lives and have driven the economy, the malign use of these technologies harms our government, victimizes consumers and businesses, and endangers public safety and national security," Sessions wrote.

The Cyber-Digital Task Force will be chaired by a senior DOJ official appointed by the Deputy Attorney General and will initially consist of representatives from the department's Criminal Division, National Security Division, U.S. Attorney's Office, Office of Legal Policy, Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, Office of the Chief Information Officer, the ATF, FBI, DEA, and U.S. Marshals Service.

The attorney general requested an initial report from the Task Force detailing the DOJ's current cyber-related activities and initial recommendations be presented no later than June 30, 2018.


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