MIAMI, FL -- S4 2016 -- Gen. Michael Hayden called for private industry, not the US government, to take the lead in protecting data and the power grid from attacks by nation-states or terror groups.
"People ask how come government isn't doing something about it … Government will be permanently late to the need in providing cybersecurity," said Hayden, who delivered the keynote address and later spoke with reporters here at the S4x16 ICS/SCADA conference.
Technology moves much faster than government and politics, he said. "We have not decided what we would allow government to do to keep us safe. We've not even laid the groundwork" for defending against such attacks, he said.
"We lack a legal policy framework," said Hayden, principal with The Chertoff Group and former director of the CIA and NSA.
As for the encryption debate, Hayden once again publicly said he disagrees with FBI director James Comey's stance on end-to-end encryption. Comey has been pushing the industry for a backdoor into encrypted devices as well as anti-encryption legislation so law enforcement isn't shut out of accessing bad guys' encrypted communications.
"If I were in Jim Comey's job, I would have Jim Comey's view. It's more a law enforcement problem than an intelligence problem," he said. "Intel [agencies have] … the tools to mitigate and minimize impact" of attackers using encryption, he said.
The long shadow of Stuxnet and concerns over a recent blackout in Ukraine that some experts have pinned on a cyberattack have raised concerns over just how vulnerable the US power grid or other critical infrastructure would be to such attacks by nation-states or terror groups.
Hayden says reconnaissance of a target takes the most time in such attacks. "You've got to know the target," he said.
"In cyberspace … recon is more difficult and takes a long time," but given that attackers already have been spotted inside some US critical infrastructure networks, it's only a matter of time before they cause damage, he said.
There won't be any "digital Pearl Harbor" via a nation-state, however, he said. "If the Chinese are turning out the lights on the Eastern Seaboard, I'm predicting that's not the first item the President is going to get briefed on. That is going to be a subset of a really ugly global scenario," Hayden said. "I'm not quite concerned about a catastrophic attack by a nation-state."
The bigger threat, he said, is "the isolated renegade" with nothing to lose if it shuts out lights in the US. "That's a permanent definition of North Korea, and in certain instances, a permanent definition of Iran," he said. Hayden said he could also imagine such a scenario out of Russia, were sanctions and other pressures on the government there overwhelmed.
Hacktivists in Iran and Syria, such as the Syrian Electronic Army, are increasingly hacking "more in the service" of their nation-states, he said.
Meantime, Hayden echoed his previous public comments that the National Security Agency (NSA) hacks only for intel-gathering, not commercial gain. He reiterated that the NSA is charged with and actively grabbing information via cyber espionage -- but all in the name of intelligence-gathering for defense of the nation. "Do we steal economic information? Of course we do" but not for commercial advantage, he said. He says if as NSA director he could have gained access to China's equivalent of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM)'s database, the NSA "would have been on it like flies on honey."
The OPM breach was the failure of the feds to protect the data of so many millions of Americans, he said. "This is not shame on China. This is shame on us."
The feds need to be more forthcoming when it comes to attacker attribution, though, he said.
Hayden also touched on the Sony attack, which was found to be the handiwork of North Korea. "The guys at NSA were very confident they knew who did it. I think their degree of confidence suggests they were not doing forensics: they were behind the screen."
Hayden said his team at The Chertoff Group spoke with Sony about the attack. "They stole and destroyed data, networks and it was damn close to physical harm. People at Sony were getting threats, I know, up to and including 'I know what high school your daughter goes to,'" he said.
He said the challenge of this particular breach was just how to characterize it, and US government officials indeed struggled with that. "What do you call this? So you have a helluva time figuring out what to do with it if you can't figure out what to call it."
Digital Bond CEO Dale Peterson, whose firm hosts S4, urged attendees to commit to fixing ICS/SCADA security issues in the next one- to three years. "We've made some progress, and maybe some small areas where we made significant progress," Peterson said. "But our lack of faith in solving this problem is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"It's the technology driving policy and political change, not the other way around," Chertoff Group's Hayden said.