The U.S. power grid and other crucial infrastructures have been penetrated by the Chinese and other governments, posing a serious threat to shut down the systems and create chaos through cyberattacks.
Adm. Michael Rogers, head of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Cyber Command, a military arm charged with dealing with cyberwarfare, told the House Intelligence Committee that the U.S. is vulnerable to such attacks, which could shut down utilities, fuel and water delivery, aviation, banking and other computer-based systems, CNN reports
"It is only a matter of the when, not the if, that we are going to see something traumatic," he told the committee.
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A report from cybersecurity firm Mandiant notes that a shadowy hacker operation that it calls APT1 has been infiltrating U.S. business and government sites.
Mandiant believes APT1
to be the 2nd Bureau of the People's Liberation Army, operating out of Shanghai, and has "systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations."
Rogers told the committee that by infiltrating systems, the hackers leave behind malware which "enables (them) to shut down very segmented, very tailored parts of our
infrastructure that forestall the ability to provide that service to us as citizens," CNN reports.
He noted that there are "probably one or two" other countries with the same capabilities, but declined to name them. However, cybersecurity experts have identified Russia as another threat.
"We see them (Chinese) attempting to steal information on how our systems are configured, the very schematics of most of our control systems, down to engineering level of detail so they can look at where are the vulnerabilities, how are they constructed, how could I get in and defeat them," Rogers told the committee, CNN reported.
"We're seeing multiple nation-states invest in those kinds of capabilities."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied to Reuters
that the Chinese government is involved in hacking operations.
In a recent survey of computer security experts
by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, many of those experts noted that the U.S. can expect to see such an attack on its systems before 2025.
Joel Brenner, former NSA counsel, told The Washington Post
, "Every expert I know believes our electricity grid has been penetrated by Russia and China. Our military correctly assumes these penetrations would enable future attacks and disruptions."
Rogers told the committee that criminal gangs, mostly Russian, also are believed to be working as surrogates for nation states, using sophisticated computer capabilities to "obscure, if you will, their (nation-states) finger prints."
In effect, the gangs are operating as "cyber hit men for hire," committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said, The Wall Street Journal
Rogers, the Post reported, told the committee, "I fully expect that during my time as a commander, we are going to be tasked with defending critical infrastructure
in the United States.
Referring to the Pew report, he said, "I bet it happens before 2025."
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