"Sensitive information is stolen daily from both government and private sector networks, undermining confidence in our information systems, and in the very information these systems were intended to convey," said Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, in prepared remarks outlining the U.S. intelligence community's annual assessment of threats.
While Blair's testimony covered terrorism, nuclear proliferation, geo-political conflicts, global economic problems, risks associated with climate change, and global health challenges, it addressed cyber threats first.
"Malicious cyber activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication," he said, citing as an example the emergence in 2009 of malware that modifies itself to avoid detection.
Cyber criminals' capabilities presently exceed the response capabilities of those defending networks, Blair said, and urged companies to promptly report attacks to help the government understand and address the full range of cyber threats. He warned that cyber-facilitated bank fraud and credit fraud have serious implications for the economy and national security.
Looking ahead, he said that voice and data networks will converge over the next five years and that this convergence amplifies the potential disruption from cyber attacks.
To protect cyberspace, the U.S. government will need to collaborate more effectively with private sector partners and international authorities, said Blair.
He also urged Congress to fully fund the U.S. government's cyber security initiatives, noting that Congress had funded most, but not all, of the Administration's request last year.
Blair's comments come just days after the emergence of a leaked report from MI5, the U.K.'s counter-intelligence agency, about the risk of Chinese cyber-espionage and malware-infected electronic gifts.