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'Blinking Red' Cyber Threats

By Peter Clarke, JD on July 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

Over the past couple years, we have heard a lot about Russian efforts on the internet to influence the 2016 presidential election. We also keep getting news about major hacks of businesses and the wrongful accessing of personal, customer information.

And now, if that were not enough, Dan Coats, the National Intelligence Director, reportedly has stated that cyber threats to US national security are "blinking red" as warning lights. Indeed, according to AP, Director Coats has revealed that online efforts to undercut the fabric of the United States are happening on a daily basis.

Right as President Trump is in the midst of meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russian, Coats has stated that Russian has been the most assertive outside force, but that China (now subject to greater US tariffs), Iran (the US has walked away from the nuclear agreement), and North Korea (supposedly mollified on the nuclear front but that facts indicate otherwise), and criminal organizations and other hackers also are behind cyber threats to the US.

Important to know is that the cyber threats referred to by Director Coats are not just those relating to our elections (even though that is a huge issue, especially with mid-term congressional elections coming up), but targets also encompass various aspects of the federal government including the military, state and local governments, US businesses including financial institutions and businesses supporting critical infrastructure, and academic institutions.

Indeed, Director Coats has said that Russian government operatives have been detected by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and international allies as part of Russian efforts to target the nuclear, aviation, water, energy and important manufacturing sectors.

Director Coats likens the immediacy of these current cyber threats to the blinking red warning intelligence channels of a likely terrorist attack prior to 9/11.

He made the foregoing comments at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. soon after the Department of Justice indicted twelve Russian intelligence officers who are accused of hacking Democrat emails and releasing hacked information in advance of the 2016 presidential election.

Despite Russia's denial of any attempt to disrupt the US presidential election, Coats said that there still are ongoing Russian efforts to "manipulate social media and to spread propaganda focused on hot-button issues that are intended to exacerbate socio-political divisions."

Plainly, now is not the time to be complacent when it comes to cyber threats. Maximum and best defensive efforts should be undertaken to prevent the types of harms that could ensue from intended cyber threats as outlined by Director Coats.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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