Intelligence director warns of spreading cyber threat

The impending cyber threat requires the immediate attention of Congress, according to a top intelligence official who singled out China, Russia and a failure of policy keeping up with the speed of technology as top threats to the nation’s critical networks.

“Cyber threats pose a critical national and economic security concern due to the continued advances in—and growing dependency on—the information technology that underpins nearly all aspects of modern society,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a Feb. 2 testimony submitted to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Our technical advancements in detection and attribution shed light on malicious activity, but cyber intruders continue to explore new means to circumvent defensive measures.”

He said the danger is multi-fold owing to the fact that threats evolve quickly, range in scope and breadth and come from both state and non-state actors.

Clapper used a number of current-events examples to illustrate a cyber threat rapidly evolving and gaining velocity globally, including Chinese and Russian theft of intellectual property, attack campaigns led by hacker groups like Anonymous and Lulzsec, intrusions of networks of high-profile organizations like NASDAQ and the International Monetary Fund and the irrepressible surge of social media use that catalyzed the Arab Spring movement.

Earlier in the week, the director also highlighted a triumvirate of geopolitical cyber adversaries in Russia, China and Iran.

“Russia and China are aggressive and successful purveyors of economic espionage against the United States. Iran’s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity,” Clapper said in a Jan. 31 statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “We assess that [Foreign Intelligence Services] from these three countries will remain the top threats to the United States in the coming years.”

He also noted the danger of insider threats as one of many primary concerns about the security of U.S. networks.

“We currently face a cyber environment where emerging technologies are developed and implemented faster than governments can keep pace,” Clapper said. Those events “underscore the vulnerability of key sectors of the US and global economy.”

Clapper was joined on Capitol Hill by CIA Director David Petraeus and FBI Director Robert Mueller, who told the Senate cyber attacks could surpass terrorism as the nation’s top threat.

Members of Congress seemed to agree with the gravity of the cyber threat Clapper and Mueller described, although it wasn’t clear what will be done or when.

“Today’s cyber criminals have the ability to interrupt life-sustaining services, cause catastrophic economic damage, or severely degrade the networks our defense and intelligence agencies rely on. Congress needs to act on comprehensive cybersecurity legislation immediately,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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