Cyber-Attacks Eclipse Terrorism in Impact, U.S. Leaders Say
The heads of national intelligence and U.S. Cyber Command both warn that cyber-operations have become a primary concern for the nation's defenders.
In comments at separate congressional hearings, the leaders of the U.S. intelligence efforts and of the nation's quickly growing Cyber Command warned that cyber-operations by nation-states and rogue adversaries have become a major concern for the country, eclipsing the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.In his delivery of the worldwide threat assessment to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence March 12, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper led his list of global threats with the current cyber-operations against the nation's interests, indicating that cyber-attacks and espionage are having more impact today than terrorism or the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Recent attacks on U.S. banks, the destructive virus that deleted data from 30,000 workstations at Saudi Aramco, and the wholesale theft of sensitive data by various nations—chief among them China—had weakened the United States' technological advantage, Clapper said in his prepared remarks (pdf). "We assess that highly networked business practices and information technology are providing opportunities for foreign intelligence and security services, trusted insiders, hackers and others to target and collect sensitive U.S. national security and economic data," Clapper said. "This is almost certainly allowing our adversaries to close the technological gap between our respective militaries, slowly neutralizing one of our key advantages in the international arena." The assessment comes a few weeks after incident response firm Mandiant issued a report that outlined the overwhelming evidence supporting assertions that China is the nation behind at least one massive espionage campaign in cyberspace. However, while cyber-espionage has become common, cyber-sabotage will continue to be rare, Clapper said. A successful attack on critical infrastructure is unlikely, for example, because rogue actors tend not to have the technical skills, and more sophisticated nation-state adversaries would be unlikely to attack outside of wartime, he said.