Cyber Command Director Alexander Warns of Network ‘Sabotage’

The U.S. military should be prepared to counter cyber attacks intended to disrupt operations as well as to paralyze and destroy entire computer networks, the U.S. Cyber Command’s new head said today.

Cyber attacks appear to be evolving from data theft and temporary disruption to “sabotage,” General Keith Alexander said.

The trend “should give us pause for concern,” he told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based policy group, in his first speech as commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.

“A decade ago, network penetration seemed targeted mostly at exploiting data,” Alexander said. “In the last few years, we saw the bar of conduct lowered.”

Attacks on computer networks in Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008 temporarily denied service. Alexander said he’s concerned that attempts to breach the Pentagon’s computer firewalls will go a step further, with the purpose of destroying networks.

Asked later in an interview if there have been such efforts to sabotage U.S. systems, he said “none that I can point to right now. My concern is what I see globally.”

Alexander last month took over new Cyber Command, which coordinates with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency to protect the military’s 15,000 networks and 7 million computer devices that are probed 250,000 times an hour.

It also works with the U.S. Strategic Command to support combat commanders and conducts cyber attacks against enemies in wartime.

Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at CSIS, said Alexander’s remarks on sabotage “told me we are now in situation where advanced militaries have this capability and are planning to use it.”

“That wasn’t true maybe four years ago, but it’s true now and part of what Cyber Command has to deal with,” Lewis said.

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