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.

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