In the 2008 Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Armed Services Committee for the first time the threat of cyber attacks were addressed (well, the first time in the report available to the public). [EDITOR: The threat assessment was delivered by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 27]
The intelligence community listed "the vulnerabilities of the US information infrastructure to increasing cyber attacks by foreign governments, non-state actors and criminal elements" as the fourth major bullet of the fourth page in the opening of the forty-five page testimony delivered to the Senate by DNI McConnell. The testimony goes on to state that due to the significance of computers and telecommunications to our country's security, defense and economy, threats to our IT infrastructure are an important focus of the Intelligence Community.
Also stated were the trends seen over the past year, which included cyber exploitation activities that grew more sophisticated, more targeted and more serious. Finally, McConnell stated that the Intelligence Community expects these trends to continue in the coming year. Most concerning was the following statement excerpted from the report.
"We assess that nations, including Russia and China, have the technical capabilities to target and disrupt elements of the US information infrastructure and for intelligence collection. Nation states and criminals target our government and private sector information networks to gain competitive advantage in the commercial sector." The report went on to state that terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, HAMAS, and Hezbollah have expressed the desire to use cyber means to target the United States.
Criminal elements continue to show growing sophistication in technical capability and targeting, and today operate a pervasive, mature online service economy in illicit cyber capabilities and services available to anyone willing to pay.
The information contained in the testimony represents the cumulative views of highly skilled professionals working on this critical issue. All the warning signs are there.
The intelligence community has confirmed our fears. The "Cyber Arms Race" has begun.