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The Most Capable Cyber Attackers Are Less Likely to Attack

July 31, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The most damaging cyber attacks possible are among the least likely to happen, because the powers capable of undertaking them are unlikely to launch them, according to an expert with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Sean Kanuck, national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the National Intelligence Council, ODNI, told the audience at the second day of the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that cyber attack capability need not translate to immediate threat.

Kanuck explained that the most sophisticated players in cyber are powerful nations that know it would run counter to their interests to inflict a damaging attack on the United States. They will—and do—conduct cyber espionage, but they would not want to bring down the United States except possibly in an existential military conflict that threatens their regime or as a part of a major war.

On the other hand, some less capable cyber nations might be willing to launch a devastating attack. Nations such as Iran, for example, might see benefits from inflicting great harm on the United States.

Non-state players would join the major powers in eschewing a crippling attack on the United States. Kanuck pointed out that these non-state entities use cyber to their advantage, such as for criminal activities. “They do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he noted. “They want to profit, but they don’t want to bring down the law upon themselves.”

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