CIA Director’s Ominous Warning: With All The Threats He Sees, Cyber is What Keeps Him Up at Night

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan makes a point while he holds a rare news conference at the CIA Headquarters in Virginia REUTERS/Larry Downing
CIA Director John Brennan's biggest worry is cyber threats.

Are you focused enough on your data security?

Are you keeping all aspects of your organization’s data protected, from the workstations connected to your network, to your data center and to your cloud platform?

Are your employees regularly communicated to regarding protecting their credentials, the increasingly sophisticated level of phishing, your policies on the use of personal devices for company business, and your other best practices designed to implement maintain a strong security stance?

These are likely questions you’re asking if you watched CBS newsmagazine’s 60 Minutes feature on Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan last night.  The transcript and video of the segment can be viewed here.

The interview with CBS’s Scott Pelly covered a wide range of concerns.  Areas of focus included ISIS’s use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, the terrorist group’s desire to use them in terrorist attacks, the threats faced domestically after San Bernardino, how the French intelligence overlooked the foreign training of radicalized French citizens who executed the Paris attacks, and the tragic fact that 31 covert CIA agents have been killed in the field since 9/11.

Some pretty heavy stuff, with the expectation that more of it is on the way due to the increasing sophistication and financial support for ISIS.

Yet Brennan’s greatest concern lies elsewhere.  As Pelly said in his narration, “But it isn’t necessarily a shooting war that worries Brennan most.  His CIA is facing a new front, in cyber.  And to focus on it, he set up the agency’s first new directorate in more than fifty years.”

A few of Director Brennan’s thoughts:

On the cyber threat:

“That cyber environment can pose a very, very serious and significant attack vector for our adversaries.  If they want to take down our infrastructure, if they want to cause havoc in transportation systems, (do)    great damage to our financial networks.  That cyber environment is really the thing that keeps me up at night.”

On his experience in having his own emails hacked:

“There are ways that individuals can get into the personal emails of anybody.”

On the risks that people take when they engage in social media:

“Individuals are liberally giving up their privacy, you know, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly as they give information to companies or to sales reps.  Or they go out on Facebook or the various social media.  They don’t realize though that they are making themselves vulnerable to exploitation.

John Brennan is not a guy who issues warnings idly.  He has great concern about the security of our IT infrastructure.  Knowing how alarmed he is, you should be concerned about your IT network, your cloud security, and your data center defenses.

You may have adversaries who want to bring down your infrastructure, damage you financially, steal your critical data, including sensitive customer information.  There are like efforts to do that on a daily basis taking place right now.

You should also be concerned about the information your people share with sales reps, share with contractors, how they interact on social media and who they interact with.

If your organization is hit, you can lose customers, revenues, and your reputation if you suffer a breach that exposes customer data, financial information, and your company’s intellectual property.  The potential damage to your organization is significant.

If the threat of hackers is keeping the CIA director up at night, it should be foremost on the minds of a team within your organization as well.