The news provided by the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, to a Senate panel yesterday wasn't all good. While Al-Qaida is weakening in Iraq, it's spreading its tentacles elsewhere. That includes the critical IT infrastructure. Part of his testimony included warnings that the threat of cyberattacks are increasing from terror groups, homegrown militants, and nations.Here are a few highlights on the electronic threats he outlined:
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.
Over the past year, cyberexploitation activity has grown more sophisticated, more targeted, and more serious. The Intelligence Community expects these trends to continue in the coming year.
Terrorist groups -- including al-Qaida, Hamas, and Hizballah -- 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 cybercapabilities and services available to anyone willing to pay.
We assess that nations, including Russia and China, have the technical capabilities to target and disrupt elements of the U.S. 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.
The director went on to explain that an interagency group has assessed the cyberthreat, and how to best integrate U.S. government cybercapabilities and respond to threats. The results of that assessment have resulted in the issuance of a classified directive in January outlining steps to protect American computer networks.
That directive, "directs a comprehensive national cybersecurity initiative. These actions will help to deter hostile action in cyberspace by making it harder to penetrate our networks," the director told the panel.
Which leaves the question, haven't we been taking these steps already?
In any case, it's good to see that the cyberthreat is being taken more seriously today.
And I hope, as part of the risk assessment and planned security tightening, that the federal government is actively engaging the private sector -- power, financial services, technology firms, telecommunications, and others. If we ever were to take a significant cyberhit, it will require a coordinated response from all for a successful defense.