The chief of US national intelligence warned Wednesday that America’s “cyber defenders” are not yet able to guard national networks against the threat of attack. The comment follows revelations that California-based Google and three major US oil companies may have been compromised by overseas hackers.
Speaking to a congressional committee, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said that hackers are becoming more sophisticated and that the “technological balance” favors those looking to use cyberspace maliciously. He highlighted that the threat affects not only private company networks but also national security, reports Fox News.
[Blair] said one critical “factor” is that more and more foreign companies are supplying software and hardware for government and private sector networks.
“This increases the potential for subversion of the information in … those systems,” Blair said.
Blair also told Congress Wednesday that the Internet is providing the fuel for the growing problem of “homegrown radicalization.”
“That … has been one of the most dangerous uses of the Internet,” Blair said, explaining that foreign groups are using the Internet to organize attacks, give instructions, and arrange financing.
Last summer, bank and government Web sites in South Korea and the United States were paralyzed for days by a concerted attack that was blamed on North Korea. Some saw the blitz as a test of both the strength of the nations’ security systems and of the communist state’s capabilities, though it was never confirmed that Pyongyang was responsible.
In 2007 alone, there were around 37,000 cyber attacks in the United States, eight times 2005 levels, according to a recently published estimate that cited data from the Department of Homeland Security, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
The threat to US companies is apparent from Google’s recent claim that China tried to hack into dissident e-mail accounts on its servers. The Washington Post reported Thursday that Google is teaming up with the National Security Agency to analyze the recent case. While figuring out who was behind the attacks is nearly impossible, the goal now is to better defend Google’s networks. James Mulvenon, director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis at Defense Group Inc., a national-security firm, told the Los Angeles Times the case represented “a watershed moment in the cyber war.”
“Before, the Chinese were going after defense targets to modernize the country’s military machine. But these intrusions strike at the heart of the American innovation community.”
An exclusive report by the Monitor last month that major US oil firms Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips were bleeding information to an extent beyond their knowledge hints at the wide range of hacker targets – and the high level of vulnerability.
On Tuesday, Mr. Blair called the attacks on Google a “wakeup call,” reported CNET, and pointed to two new technological trends that have left the US vulnerable.
Network convergence, or the melding of voice, video, and data over a common network, should be nearly complete on a national scale within the next five years, he noted. But this convergence creates new opportunities for cyberattacks that could affect other parts of the country’s infrastructure. Channel consolidation, or the ability to grab data on an individual through emails, search engines, social networks, and geotagging, increases the risk that our personal information and privacy can be exploited.
On how to address the problem, the US intelligence chief was less than optimistic, saying there was no way to fully safeguard information. “But he feels confident that an increased focus on and greater investment in security can help the US better meet this challenge,” CNET said.