The Department of Justice is forming a Cyber-Digital Task Force to detect, deter and disrupt malicious cyber behavior through the department’s law enforcement mission.
A department memo directing the establishment of the task force states the task force will also identify how federal law enforcement can more effectively accomplish its mission in cyberspace.
DoJ, specifically the National Security Division, has significantly ramped up its efforts in cyberspace within the last decade steeping agents and attorneys in the field to better understand the intricacies involved. Indictments of top nation and non-nation state hackers has been touted in the past as one of many tools in the U.S. arsenal of whole of nation cyber deterrence.
The memo also lays out a few of the most “pressing cyber threats” facing the nation, which include efforts to interfere with or disable critical infrastructure, efforts to interfere with elections, use of the internet to spread violent ideologies, theft of corporate, governmental and private information, use of technology to avoid or frustrate law enforcement such as masking criminal activity and mass exploitation of computers.
“Evaluating these threats and formulating a strategy to combat them should be among the Task Force’s highest priority,” the memo states.
A recent report issued by the Council of Economic Advisers estimates that malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said the U.S. is “under attack” in cyberspace and that Russia would step up its election meddling in 2018, spurring lawmakers to vent fears the U.S. is falling behind its adversaries.
Moreover, the memo is notable for its reference to election interference through cyber means. Since the intelligence community’s report in January of 2017 attributing Russia for perpetrating a sophisticated influence campaign that sought to undermine the 2016 presidential election – using online cutouts and cyber means as the primary vector – little has come out regarding concrete efforts to prevent such efforts from repeating in future elections.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has previously indicated in congressional testimony in October that his department was looking at how to prevent election interference in the future.
Last week, the top intelligence chiefs testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and when questioned, said they were not directed by the White House to undertake specific efforts to prevent election interference, despite the fact many officials indicated they see evidence Russia will attempt it again.
The DoJ task force owes a report describing the department’s current cyber-related activities and offering initial recommendations no later than June 2018.