Differing Opinions on Cyber Threat

It is important to understand why there are differing opinions as to the current cyber threat level

It would be nearly impossible to dispute the fact that there are differing opinions as to the current cyber threat level. Some say it is overblown, while others express deep concern and warn that we are not ready.

Now add the question of the likelihood of a successful cyber attack that disrupts or destroys our nation’s critical infrastructure and you will get a glimpse of the distribution of opinions on this subject. So who’s right and who’s wrong? That is the question that commonly arises, but there is a much better question that should be asked.

Why is there such a difference in opinion? I asked that question and received the response that I had expected.

The answer to that question deals with access to cyber threat intelligence—much of which is classified. For those of you with security clearances you know that classified intelligence is protected so that our sources and methods of intelligence collection are not compromised. There are those out there who say “classified” is just an excuse to cover-up the lack of credible information or to justify made up information to suit the government’s specific purposes.

I asked an individual who had a very high-level security clearance but is no longer cleared to reflect on this. He responded without hesitation: “There is no way anyone without access to classified threat intelligence can appreciate the real level of threat.”

After about five minutes of conversation about this he expressed his concern about the continuous balancing that must take place. He went on to say it is conceivable that cyber attacks may or have already taken place and we could not alert the targets due to the classified nature of the intelligence.

This led me to ask at what point does our classifying threat intelligence put us at greater risk, and how do we deal with that issue? There was no answer, but you know what, we had better come up with one. That is hot a hypothetical situation; it is one we face today.