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OPM computer attack highlights bigger issue

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The attack on the Office of Personnel Management’s computer system illuminates a larger issue of deterrence, said the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper June 25.

Clapper, speaking at the annual GEOINT Symposium, said of the challenge such a hack presents, “until such time as we can create both the substance and psychology of deterrence, this is going to go on.”

As director of national intelligence, Clapper leads the 17 agencies of the intelligence community -- including seven Defense Department intelligence-gathering entities.

Millions of records

He said China is the “leading suspect” in the hack that compromised millions of government records.

The director said the question of a possible response is a struggle for the U.S. government because of the concerns about unintended consequences.

But such hacking attacks will likely continue until there is some sort of penalty for practitioners of such acts, he said.

“What we must do in the meantime is pay more attention to defense,” Clapper added.

Generating deterrence in the cyber world is a problem, Clapper said. Deterrence means essentially that performing an action would mean sure and swift punishment for doing the deed. Nuclear deterrence and the principle of mutually assured destruction is the most famous manifestation of this. This is not happening in the cyber domain, yet.

“Until such time as we can figure out a way to generate that deterrence we are left with paying a lot more attention to defense,” Clapper said. “I feel really bad for OPM, but there (but) for the grace of God go a lot of us.”