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NSA, CYBERCOM head warns cyber attackers could soon aim for destruction

WASHINGTON -- Cyber intrusions against the U.S. government and private companies have multiplied in recent years, but truly destructive attacks are now on the horizon, America’s top cyber warrior said Tuesday.

“It is a question of time,” said Army Gen. Keith Alexander, according to a story by the Defense Department’s American Forces Press Service. “What we don’t know is how far out it is.”

Alexander, who runs both U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, made the remarks at a cyberdefense conference in Linthicum, Md.

Cyber incursions against the Pentagon, other U.S. government agencies and private firms generally have been aimed at stealing sensitive data or vandalizing websites. But cyber experts have long warned that intruders could potentially take over systems to wreak physical havoc as well.

The destruction of Iranian nuclear centrifuges in 2010 by the Stuxnet virus, a sophisticated piece of malware that still has not been conclusively linked to a perpetrator, is the best-known example of a destructive cyberattack. But if attackers aimed successfully at the U.S. electric grid or even nuclear power plants, widespread destruction and loss of life might result, experts have long warned.

Continued efforts to beef up America’s cyber defenses are needed, because the threat “affects every industry and sector of the economy and government,” Alexander said. “So we have to get out in front.”

 

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