US launches new cyber security agency

The US Tuesday launched a new cyber security agency, in the face of increasing cyber threats that make up what an official called “a defining challenge of the 21st century.”

Lisa Monaco, advisor to President Barack Obama on homeland security and counterterrorism, said the new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Centre (CTIIC) will coordinate efforts of existing agencies to prevent and respond to cyber attacks that have increased “five-fold” since 2005.

In November and December, hackers held for ransom sensitive corporate data and personal information stolen from Sony Pictures. The US said North Korea orchestrated the attack to try to prevent the studio from releasing a film satirizing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Sony attack was a “game changer” for the US, Monaco said, “because it wasn’t about profit – it was about a dictator trying to impose censorship and … at the bottom, about coercion, which the US believes is unacceptable.”

In January, an attack on Anthem, the second-largest US health insurer, exposed the personal data of as many as 80 million people.

Monaco named China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as well as hacker group Anonymous as some of the myriad state and non-state actors who probe US government and private sector cyber defences “every day.”

CTIIC is modeled after the National Counterterrorism Centre, created to coordinate intelligence from myriad agencies after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The new agency, with a reported initial budget of 35 million dollars, is part of an increased White House focus on cyber security in the public and private sectors, in the wake of a series of hack attacks on prominent US companies.

Monaco promised the US would investigate and respond to private sector hack attacks, and urged the private sector to involve government investigators.

In his budget proposal last week, Obama asked for 14 billion dollars for cyber security. On Friday, Obama will hold a first-ever White House summit on cyber security and consumer protection at Stanford University in California.

Court sides with NSA on spying

A federal judge on Tuesday sided with the government in a lawsuit alleging the National Security Agency is illegally engaging in the bulk collection of Internet and telephone records in the hunt for potential terrorists.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland said the plaintiffs in the case – AT&T customers – had not shown that all AT&T customers’ Internet communications were currently the subject of a “dragnet seizure and search program, controlled by or at the direction of the Government,” and they therefore did not have standing to file a lawsuit under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against warrantless searches and seizures.

White said the plaintiffs’ understanding of the key parts of the data collection process was “substantially inaccurate.”

Additionally, even if the plaintiffs had standing, White said a Fourth Amendment claim would have to be dismissed to protect secret information that would damage national security if released. He granted partial summary judgment for the government.

“The Court is frustrated by the prospect of deciding the current motions without full public disclosure of the Court’s analysis and reasoning…,” White wrote in his ruling. “The Court is persuaded that its decision is correct both legally and factually and furthermore is required by the interests of national security.”

The judge did not dismiss all of the claims in the suit, said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which brought the suit in 2008.

Still, he said the judge’s ruling was disappointing.

“What we want is a court to rule on the merits of the NSA’s program,” he said. “Is what they are doing legal? Is it constitutional? The court didn’t do that. It didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

The foundation plans to continue fighting the case, Cardozo said.

Cardozo said other pending lawsuits are challenging the government’s collection of telephone metadata such as the duration of a call and to whom it was placed.

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US launches new cyber security agency