Intelligence community assesses cyber threat

This year’s annual threat assessment from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) found that malicious cyber activity grew more sophisticated, targeted and serious during the past year and that trend is expected to continue during the next year. The assessment also said the intelligence community expects disruptive cyber activities to be part of future political or military conflicts.

The unclassified findings of the assessment were presented by DNI Dennis Blair before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Feb. 12. Blair’s predecessor, Mike McConnell, presented cited a similar trend regarding cyber threats in the 2008 annual report.

The release of this year’s assessment came days after the Obama administration said it will conduct a full-scale review of the government’s cybersecurity efforts. That review will include a look at the multiyear, multibillion-dollar Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) that started in January 2008.

The report said threats to the information networks of the United States come from nation-states, criminals and terrorist groups have expressed a desire to use cyber means to target the United States.

“Each of these actors has different levels of skill and different intentions; therefore, we must develop flexible capabilities to counter each,” the report said. “We must take proactive measures to detect and prevent intrusions from whatever source, as they happen, and before they can do significant damage.”

The report also said that, although work remained, there is “an unprecedented unity of effort across a broad coalition of government agencies, members of Congress, and leaders of industry,” but that the CNCI must remain a long-term national priority.

Blair also testified that it was important to include cyber defense from the “very first building block” of a new smart grid electrical system. Blair also said that he feels terrorist groups are most focused on using other methods of attack.

Blair also said cyber is not the area where he thinks terrorists have the greatest skills for the greatest destruction.

“I think that they have other terrible things that they can do to us that they are working on harder, they're better able to do and they seem to be more motivated to do – so it’s possible, but I don’t think the combination of terror and cyber is the nexus that we are most worried about.”  

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Feb 4, 2010 JD CA

Step 1: Get DCS and SCADA systems OFF the Internet! So what if it costs a little more or inconveniences "Bubba" who has to jump in a utility truck and drive to the pipe valve to open/close it.... vice putting a motor with an IP address on the valve and exposing its control to anyone savvy enough to discover it... while sipping Stoli in his dacha half-way around the world.

Wed, Feb 18, 2009

Why would hackers waste time on ATC or power? They seem to be getting the upper hand in controlling the Internet, and they already own finance.

How much of the current economic crisis is rooted in fraud? What is the real difference between encoding fake Visa gift cards with mag stripe data stolen from Heartland, and running a Ponzi scheme using money stolen from investors? Ethically those are pretty much the same, seems to me.

Sat, Feb 14, 2009 Anthony S. Policastro

I have always thought that one day hackers would be bold enough, confident enough and powerful enough to take control of one of our country’s major infrastructures such as air control, electricity or the Internet. The fact that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) found that malicious cyber activity grew more sophisticated and targeted just confirms my belief that one day hackers or an organized group of them will hack into the major infrastructure systems of our society and cause a major catastrophe. In fact, I've written a book about such a scenario where hackers take over the cell phone network and the power grid and hold the US hostage. Dark End of the Spectrum available at is based on actual events and years of research into the hacker culture.

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