U.S. would lose a cyber war, former intell chief warns

Urgent action is needed to lessen vulnerability

If the United States fought a war in cyberspace today it would lose, the nation’s former top intelligence official has told a Senate Committee.

“We’re the most vulnerable, we’re the most connected, we have the most to lose, so if we went to war today in a cyber war we would lose,” Michael McConnell, who previously served as the director of national intelligence, told the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Feb. 23.

McConnell told the panel that although the United States has made progress on cybersecurity, the country hasn’t made a national commitment to understanding and securing cyberspace. He predicted a catastrophic event would be needed to move the country toward a pre-emptive posture to mitigate the threat.

“We’re not going to do what we need to do; we’re going to have a catastrophic event [and] the government’s role is going to change dramatically, and then we’re going to go to a new infrastructure,” McConnell, a retired Navy vice admiral, predicted.


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McConnell added that he was particularly worried about non-state actors that want to destroy the U.S. information infrastructure, such as the global financial system.

His blunt assessment comes as members of the committee look to advance comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, introduced last year by Sens. John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The bill, which included controversial proposals related to certifications and presidential powers, is said to have been through multiple drafts.

James Lewis, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ technology and public policy program, praised the committee’s efforts on cybersecurity during his testimony. Lewis said the Rockefeller-Snowe bill would improve cybersecurity and would help create a needed new framework for cybersecurity.

“There will be complaints that cybersecurity will get in the way of innovation, but...requiring safer cars did not kill innovation in the automobile industry or we would still all be driving 1956 DeSotos,” Lewis said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

Reader comments

Mon, Mar 1, 2010 Joanne WI

The US is the spoiled brat, on the block of the world, who drives a red convertible and has no idea how it runs. The poor boy, on a fourth-generation bike, from the other side of the tracks, who has been harassed by the rich kid, is going to put sugar in Richie Riches' gas tank one day. Sadly, the powers-that-be (kid's dad) is going to solve that problem by taking the car away from the kid. Now just substitute spoiled kid with U.S., poor boy with any entity that wants to sabotage us, big daddy with U.S. gov't, and the car with private sector free use of the internet. There ya go.....

Mon, Mar 1, 2010 ImagePhreak

This is not about a cyber war, this is about getting us on WEB 2.0 so that these criminal senators and congressman can control the content.

Mon, Mar 1, 2010 bofors http://www.infowars.com

The gross ignorance of the comments posted above is truly difficult to fathom for those of us who know what US State-Sponsored terrorism and false flag operations are. Then again, it is also quite clear that some people think a little mass murder and treason here and there is great to the extent they get a piece of the profits via government projects. Now let me get the to point, it is quite obvious that like Internet is a serious thread.... a serious threat that is to the ruling elite who control the mass population via TV, that is. Obviously, any and bone fide cyber threats are constantly being exposed and closed by everyday hackers. This cyber-war nonsense is in reality a false pre-text for controlling the flow of information over the Internet. You should also note that certain parties are also calling for no less than licenses to used the Internet. Never that 1st Amdement thing... it is just paper and will burn. I would like to write more, but suspect my comment will censored. Prove me wrong.

Mon, Mar 1, 2010 edmond hennessy united states

Have kept abreast of this initiative - and seen how it has evolved. Attended a Cybersecurity 2000 Program (that's a lot of years ago) - although the threats were gearing-up and not as deadly and prolific, as today - from an outsider's view - not much has changed, other than the alarming headlines and intensity of the challenge/problem in the newsfront. Realize that there are many opinions on this topic, depending on what segment of Government, Military, Industry/Business, Education & private sector that you poll, however will offer two perspectives: 1) Do we really know what we are dealing with from the bad guys perspective? Have we dug-in and characterized their Cyber behavior or is this just driven by randomness? Do we have the intelligence to track their moves and understand the direction they are taking this? Can we plan and anticipate? Or, are we just sitting ducks? 2) Cybersecurity means a lot of things, however given the power, ingenuity, experience and history of Military Strategy - are we leveraging this, as a key element in defining/developing and implementing our way forward Cybersecurity system?

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 Josh Ohio

Everything I see coming out of the government and DoD is so overburdened with bureaucracy, our mechanism of response is null and void. We have no agility. Thousands of smaller sites could fall victim; however, they remain agile. The one network concept is a complete failure. That one network only takes one person to sabotage. It's being done all wrong, but the people in charge aren't listening to hackers; they're listening to vendors and each other. It's a recipe for disaster. And shame on James Lewis for comparing cybersecurity to a car. He's one of the idiots that shouldn't be recommending strategy.

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