Speaking at a conference on cyber-security organized by NBC News and the Northern Virginia Technology Council, Hale said the department is already aware of some cyber-terror threats, as well as the activities of terrorist organizations on the Internet. "Theyre using cyberspace for recruiting, fund-raising and communication," he said.
Private-sector businesses in the United States are already taking the lead in making sure that they are protected against attacks and intrusion, according to Hale—and the government is following their lead. While he wouldnt divulge details, Hale said the government is working to lessen the severity of any attack on it.
Hale added that, so far, the agency has not seen any threats of immediate cyber-terror attacks, but he added that they could come without warning. And just because the government isnt aware of any threats doesnt mean they couldnt happen, or that they couldnt be extremely serious.
"Suppose there was a cyber attack at the same time as a physical attack," he suggested. Hale outlined one scenario where a physical attack of the level experienced by the United States three years ago could be accompanied by a cyber attack on the financial services industry and on emergency services, severely restricting the ability of the nation to respond.
Hale said the fact that most federal departments and agencies design and build their own networks and computer systems makes it less likely that any one type of attack would succeed across the government. He also said that only certain operating systems, which he declined to name, could be used to handle classified information, ensuring diversity in computer types.
Hale, who is also part of U.S. CERT (Computer Emergency Readiness Team), said he initially expected the private-sector representatives at the conference to question why a representative of DHS was there, but he explained that the department wanted to expand its role with private businesses in its fight against cyber terrorism.