Cyber Defense

NSA chief details 'real' threats to US networks, infrastructure

The nation's cyber security chief told Congress this week that emerging threats are costing the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars, eroding national security and posing a genuine threat to its critical infrastructure.

"The cyber challenges were are talking about are not theoretical, they are real," Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency director, told the House Committee on Intelligence Nov. 20. He warned that the failure to respond could lead to "truly catastrophic failures"

Adm. Rogers said a partnership among government, private industry and academia is needed to confront growing cyber-threats that have picked up in intensity from hackers in Russia and China. "We need a legal framework that enables us to rapidly share information, machine to machine, and at machine speed, between the private sector and the government," the NSA director testified.

NSA's role, the cyber chief said, is to "ensure that we are generating insights that aid the public sector as well as government in terms of what's the cyber threat out there, what's coming at us." That includes setting standards and approaches to cyber security.

The U.S. Cyber Command has three primary missions, Adm. Rogers said. Along with defending DOD networks, the Cyber Command is "generating the cyber mission force, the men and women who are going to be addressing the department's cyber needs, from the defensive to the offensive." Lastly, Rogers said he is preparing the emerging DOD cyber force to defend U.S. critical infrastructure.

DOD's cyber force has been given the responsibility to defend, for example, critical power and other utility, telecommunications and transportation networks—which he said are vulnerable to attacks from China and “one or two other” countries. He said a major attack was likely in the next decade.

The cyber chief estimated that DOD is about halfway toward its goal of organizing a cyber capability to defend U.S. networks.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., warned in remarks prior to the NSA director's testimony that China, Russia and others pose a growing cyber threat to U.S. critical infrastructure. "Our critical infrastructure networks are extremely vulnerable to such an attack and we can't count on deterrence if we're already in an adversarial position with a nation like China or Russia."

Rep. Rogers stressed that DOD and NSA "have an obligation to help the private sector by sharing this threat information about potential attacks before they happen." Hence, he called for passage of cyber-threat sharing legislation before the end of the year.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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