National cybersecurity threats abound, National Intelligence director tells Senate

Over the past year, cyber exploitation activity has grown more sophisticated, more targeted, and more serious and the national intelligence community expects these trends to continue in the coming year, J. Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today.

[McConnell’s statement was far reaching and included his assessment of world security issues in Iran and Afghanistan.  If you want to read all of it you can here.]

Focusing on cybersecurity issues, McConnell said the US information infrastructure—including telecommunications and computer networks and systems, and the data that reside on them—is critical to virtually every aspect of modern life. As government, private sector, and personal activities continue to move to networked operations, as our digital systems add ever more capabilities, as wireless systems become even more ubiquitous, and as the design, manufacture, and service of information technology has moved overseas, our vulnerabilities will continue to grow, McConnell said. 

He went on to say that the agency thinks recent National Security Presidential Directives which implement a comprehensive national cybersecurity plan will deter hostile action in cyber space by making it harder to penetrate the government’s  networks.

President Bush in January signed a highly controversial directive that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems. The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies -- including ones they have not previously monitored, according to a Washington Post article. Supporters of the increased cyber-security measures say the initiative falls short because it doesn't include the private sector -- power plants, refineries, banks -- where analysts say 90% of the threat exists, the Post article said. 

Some of the more interesting conclusions from McCOnnell’s testimony included the following:  

·          Our information infrastructure—including the internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers in critical industries—increasingly is being targeted for exploitation and potentially for disruption or destruction, by a growing array of state and non-state adversaries.  

·          We assess that nations, including Russia and China, have the technical capabilities to target and disrupt elements of the US information infrastructure and for intelligence collection. Nation states and criminals target our government and private sector information networks to gain competitive advantage in the commercial sector. 

·          Terrorist groups—including al-Qaida, Hamas, and Hezbollah—have expressed the desire to use cyber means to target the United States. Criminal elements continue to show growing sophistication in technical capability and targeting, and today operate a pervasive, mature on-line service economy in illicit cyber capabilities and services available to anyone willing to pay. 

·          It is no longer sufficient for the US government to discover cyber intrusions in its networks, clean up the damage, and take legal or political steps to deter further intrusions. We must take proactive measures to detect and prevent intrusions from whatever source, as they happen, and before they can do significant damage.  

 Layer 8 in a box

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