The Week in Intelligence

on January 5 | in cyber, NSA

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Here is what caught our eye in the world of intelligence this week:

U.S. officials are adamant that North Korea was behind the Sony Pictures hack despite a briefing from a cybersecurity firm that claimed otherwise. Researchers from multiple cybersecurity firms have suggested the source of the attack was a disgruntled employee, yet the FBI has said there is “no credible information” to suggest this theory is true. Kurt Stammberger, a Senior Vice President at Norse, in regards to evidence pointing towards North Korea, said: “We don’t see those data points. So if [the FBI] have got them, they should share some of them at least with the community and make a more convincing case.”

The United States has imposed new sanctions on North Korea in what the White House has called “the first aspect of our response” to the hack of Sony Pictures. The sanctions target ten specific entities including North Korea’s primary intelligence agency as well as a state-owned arms dealer. Despite North Korea’s continued denial of responsibility, order the White House has not held back, stating that anyone who works for or helps North Korea’s government is now “fair game.” In addition to further sanctions, the Obama administration has also threatened to place North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Hundreds of FBI employees who have ties overseas are subject to an aggressive internal surveillance program. The program, known as the Post-Adjudication Risk Management plan, was initially established after 9/11 to prevent new employees from being coerced by foreign intelligence services but has since been greatly expanded. Employees placed in the program face “more frequent security interviews, polygraph tests, scrutiny of personal travel,” which they claim limit their assignments and stall their careers.

An article that appears in Der Spiegel offers an inside look into the NSA’s encounters with and against encrypted data. Documents provided in the article were leaked by Edward Snowden. They show which encryption algorithms NSA is able to break and also which security tools NSA has failed to bypass.

In a piece for The Atlantic, Margo Schlanger argues that in order to improve government oversight and protect innocent Americans, civil-liberty advocates should have a larger role in the workings of surveillance agencies. She also encourages Congress to “clamp down on bulk surveillance” and create “legal rules that can then be enforced by the courts and the intelligence community’s large compliance bureaucracy.”

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