Cyberthreats getting worse, House intelligence officials warn

Technology, computers, phones

By Ashley Killough, CNN

(CNN) — The highest-ranking officials on the House intelligence committee continued to warn Sunday of the increasing cybersecurity threat to the U.S. economy and national security.

Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, the committee’s chairman, spelled out the different levels of cyberattacks during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” and cautioned that the worst of those – a debilitating hit by a terrorist group — could become reality.

“We know that terrorists, non-nation states, are seeking the capability to do a cyberattack. They’re probably not there yet,” he said, sitting next to the ranking member on the committee, Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger.

“Here’s the other problem,” he continued. “A nonrational actor, Iran, is already at the shores of the United States with cyberattacks, and that’s what’s so concerning. I think that’s what all of us – Dutch and I – have been working so hard on.”

Outlining the different levels of threats, Roger said the simplest is the criminal threat, in which attacks are launched to steal credit card information and money from banks.

“The credit card in your viewer’s wallet today will get hit about 300,000 times,” Rogers told CNN’s chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Cyberespionage, he said, is the next level of threat. He pointed to China as the biggest enemy of the U.S. in terms of stealing intellectual property and trade secrets that can ultimately make China more competitive in the world market. That costs American jobs, both congressmen said.

Ruppersberger argued the amount of trade secrets stolen from the U.S. by China amounted to the “largest amount of theft in the history of the world.”

But the most worrisome attack, they said, would be the doomsday scenario, in which a terrorist group launched a military or cyberattack that could shut down financial institutions or electrical grids on a massive scale, causing significant damage to the economy. Both congressmen said it is one of the few issues that keep them awake at night.

Appearing before a congressional hearing last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he believes cyberattacks pose more of a threat to the U.S. than a land-based attack by a terrorist group.

“It’s hard to overemphasize its significance,” he said. “We see indications that some terrorist organizations are interested in developing offensive cybercapabilities, and as cybercriminals are using a growing black market to sell cybertools that have fallen in the hands of both state and nonstate actors.”

President Barack Obama has also made cybersecurity a priority this year. On the same day as his State of the Union address in February, the president issued an executive order aimed at stopping cyberespionage against federal agencies and businesses. He also met with CEOs on Wednesday at the White House to discuss the growing threats posed by cyberattacks.

In an interview that aired Wednesday morning, however, Obama downplayed recent comments from Rogers, who said the United States was in a cyber “war” with China.

“There’s a big difference between them engaging in cyberespionage or cyberattacks and, obviously, a hot war. What is absolutely true is that we have seen a steady ramping up of cybersecurity threats. Some are state-sponsored. Some are just sponsored by criminals,” Obama said in the interview with ABC News.

Both Rogers and Ruppersberger on Sunday urged Congress to pass their bipartisan bill on cybersecurity, which they reintroduced in February. It passed the House in 2011 but failed to gain enough support in the Senate.

“We have got to stop this,” Ruppersberger said.

CNN’s Alexander Mooney contributed to this report.

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