Move over, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. High-tech asymmetric warfare is the biggest threat to the United States.
“Cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage pose a greater potential danger to U.S. national security than al Qaeda,” Los Angeles Times stated Tuesday. “For the first time, the growing risk of computer-launched foreign assaults on U.S. infrastructure, including the power grid, transportation hubs and financial networks, was ranked higher in the U.S. intelligence community’s annual review of worldwide threats than worries about terrorism.”
U.S. authorities have had a lot to say about cyber-warfare this week:
- National security advisor Thomas Donilon on Monday discussed the “unprecedented scale” of cyber-attacks launched from China, calling for international talks on how to govern cyberspace.
- National intelligence director James R. Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday that it would be difficult to overrate the importance of cyber-warfare, which could devastate the U.S. economy and its infrastructure.
- NSA and U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander told the Senate’s Committee on Armed Services about more than 140 digital assaults on Wall Street in six months (experts suspect Iran).
Raising the Stakes
These sentiments often echoed those of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month, when he discussed the relative ease of waging cyber-warfare, its global scope and myriad victims. But officials raised the stakes from last month’s five-point plan involving trade or diplomatic consequences.
In a departure for Alexander, the general not only discussed U.S. defense against cyber-attacks, but its offensive capacity, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Cyber Command will have 13 teams of digital warriors would counter-cyber-strike any nation to launch a major attack on American networks.
“This team, this defend-the-nation team, is not a defensive team,” Alexander told the House Armed Services Committee. “This is an offensive team that the Defense Department would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyberspace.”
Meanwhile cyber-crime continues to be an issue on sub-nation-state levels as well, from corporations to individuals. In the wake of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on Western financial institutions, CEOs from several industries met at the White House to talk about threats from hackers of all stripes, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
And hackers accessed private user information from the three largest credit-reporting agencies in the U.S., Bloomberg News reported Tuesday. Credit reports of Michelle Obama, Ashton Kutcher and Hulk Hogan — even FBI director Robert Mueller — wound up online.
This was a personal tragedy for everyone involved, no doubt. But it’s not likely to bump cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage as the top threat to the U.S. anytime soon.
“Cyber-attacks a bigger threat than Al Qaeda, officials say” in Los Angeles Times
“Security Leader Says U.S. Would Retaliate Against Cyberattacks” in The New York Times
“Obama’s Five-Point Plan to Fight Cyber-Crime” in SAP Business Trends