Cyber threat warnings grow louder

The cyberattack threat has been discussed for years, but in recent months the warnings seem to have grown more urgent.

At a conference in July, Christopher Painter, the State Department's coordinator for cyber issues, said he has seen a “huge uptick in the threats in the number of years I’ve been doing this.”

Part of the reason is that developing countries are beginning to catch up with technology in the developed world, meaning that the number of would-be cyberattackers — whether sanctioned by hostile governments or acting on their own — is increasing.

“Not every country around the world agrees with the way we view the Internet [and] the way we view communications infrastructure,” Painter said.

At a different event, Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, said he would rate the United States’ cyber defense capability at 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“If we were to be completely candid here, the reality is that industry is getting hacked [and] government is getting hacked," Alexander said. "What we need to do is come together and form best practices. When we put together this ability for our nation to work as a team in cyberspace, what that allows us to do now is do things that other countries aren’t capable of doing in defending the nation.”

In September 2011, China, Russia and other nations proposed a United Nations-backed code of conduct for cyberspace that would grant governments tighter control over their citizens’ Internet activity.

The document met with harsh criticism from U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, who said the proposal “would lead to a fragmented Internet, one that does not connect people but divides them; a stagnant cyberspace, not an innovative one; and ultimately a less secure cyberspace with less trust among nations."

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