The US counter-spy agency has said that cyber and surveillance technology advances have multiplied the intelligence threat to the country, putting hacktivists and online manipulators on a par with venerable foe Russia.
The biennial National Counterintelligence Strategy on Monday for the first time singled out anti-secrecy organizations, independent hackers and Islamic extremist groups as espionage threats requiring close attention.
"The United States is facing increasingly aggressive and complex threats from foreign intelligence services, as well as state and non-state actors," said William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, which issued the report. Previous editions of the report singled out Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, along with transnational crime groups, as the central spying threats to the United States.
The new strategy report adds Cuba, Hezbollah, Islamic State and Al-Qaeda as groups able to undertake intelligence operations against the country. In addition, it lists "ideologically motivated entities such as hacktivists, leaktivists, and public disclosure organizations," and foreigners with no formal organizational affinity who also conspire to steal sensitive data and intellectual property.
While the report did not mention the group by name, it was clear that WikiLeaks, which has published a huge amount of stolen US secrets as well as top secret CIA hacking tools, contributed to the shift in threat perception. The rapid spread of advanced but still cheap technology for hacking and surveillance has made it possible for anyone to pose a threat, the report said.
It pointed to the widespread availability of technologies with intelligence applications like biometric devices, unmanned systems, high resolution imagery, enhanced surveillance equipment, encryption, artificial intelligence, and advance hacking tools.
"Foreign threat actors have become more dangerous because, with ready access to advanced technology, they are threatening a broader range of targets at lower risk," it said.