DNI Head Daniel Coates

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats has described the ever-expanding list of cyber threats from across the world as a top priority for his office and the intelligence community.

“It’s clear that cybersecurity has become one of the most important priorities for the director of national intelligence and the intelligence community. Among the many threats that we discuss on an almost daily basis, cyber threats have risen to almost the top for a couple reasons.”

Coats, who made the statement at the Billington CyberSecurity Summit held on Wednesday in Washington, said the threats were serious enough to “keep him awake” at night.

According to Coats, cyber threats, if left unmanaged, could erode public trust and confidence in information, services and institutions.

The intelligence director also made direct references to Russia, saying the country had assumed an “aggressive cyber posture.”

 “Russia has clearly assumed an even more aggressive cyber posture by increasing cyber espionage operations, leaking data stolen from these operations.”

China has also continued with its espionage operations against various governments and institutions, said Coats.

“China continues to conduct cyber espionage against the U.S. government, our allies, and U.S. companies.”

North Korea and Iran have improved on their abilities to engage in destructive cyberattacks aimed at furthering their political aims, Coats stated.

“Iran and North Korea are improving their capabilities to launch destructive cyberattacks to support their political objectives.”

Nonstate actors, including terrorist organizations such as ISIS, have turned to the internet as a powerful tool for the recruitment of new members, and other illegal activities, said Coats.

“And nonstate actors, notably terrorist groups like ISIS, are using the Internet to organize, to recruit, spread propaganda, raise funds, collect intelligence, inspire action, and coordinate operations.”

According to Coats, even though the intelligence community has the benefit of having more information about threats and the sponsors behind them, it could not force others in government or industry to react to them in a certain way.

He said the intelligence community had a role to play in improving the sharing of information between the government and private sector.

“The intelligence community has a key role in identifying the threats. In other words, we must explain not only what we see and what it means, but also what can be done about it from a security perspective.”

Currently, the main issue with sharing this necessary information is that too many methods exist for achieving this, making this process more unwieldy than it needs to be, said Coats.

“The not-so-good news is that collaboration within the government and the private sector on cyber threat intelligence is growing unnecessarily complex, because we each do it in different ways, for different purposes, and describe them differently to each other.”

Coats also appealed to the private sector to collaborate more with the government to address poor security design in their products, especially with regards to security flaws.