Cyber attacks are near the top of the list of most serious threats facing the United States, with the rivaling concerns about terrorism and North Korea, intelligence officials with President Barack Obama's administration said.
James Clapper, the Obama administration's national security director, and Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, were among the officials that pointed to cyber attacks as top threats during a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
[ The President's Security Advisor specifically called out China for its hacking of U.S. companies. | Find out how to block the viruses, worms, and other malware that threaten your business, with hands-on advice from InfoWorld's expert contributors. Download the PDF today! | Learn how to secure your systems with the Security Adviser blog and newsletter, both from InfoWorld. ]
Clapper, a retired Air Force general, said he has not seen a "more diverse array of threats and challenges" for U.S. national security during his time in the defense and intelligence communities. Clapper led off with cyber attacks in his Senate testimony about security threats facing the U.S.
"I cannot overemphasize its significance," Clapper said. "Increasingly, state and non-state actors are gaining and using cyber expertise. These capabilities put all sectors of our country at risk, from government and private networks to critical infrastructures."
Intelligence agencies see interest from terrorist organizations in acquiring offensive cyber capabilities, he added. Cyber criminals are using black markets to sell hacking tools to a number of organizations, he said.
Asked what threats worry him the most, Mueller identified cyberattacks. The FBI investigates cyber attacks related to criminal and to terrorist activity, he said. Terrorist groups continue to use the Internet to recruit followers, he added.
Committee members also raised concerns about cyber attacks. Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, called on Congress to pass a bill that would encourage information-sharing about cyber threats among private businesses and between businesses and government agencies. A recent executive order signed by Obama enables more information-sharing from the government to businesses, but businesses need protection from lawsuits before they will be comfortable sharing their information, Coats said.
"This is a serious threat, and we need to get on it," Coats said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and committee chairwoman, said she plans to introduce an information-sharing bill soon. Two members of the House of Representatives introduced the controversial information-sharing bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), in February.
Even as the threat of physical terrorism against the U.S. is diminishing, the threat of cybe rattacks and cyber espionage is growing, Feinstein said. Recent reports suggest "massive cyber penetrations" into U.S. companies, she said.