March 10, 2009

Intelligence Director Describes Challenges In Tracing Cyberattacks

U.S. intelligence director Dennis Blair warned Tuesday that the nation often struggles to rapidly and reliably trace cyber attacks to their source, despite attempts by extremists and rival nations to wage virtual war.

"It often takes weeks and sometimes months of subsequent investigation," the AFP quoted Blair as saying, "and even at the end of very long investigations you're not quite sure" who was behind the offensive.

Nations such as China, Russia and others may already be serious online foes, and in the future terrorists may simply be able to hire hackers to target key U.S. systems, Blair said while addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee during session on global threats to U.S. interests.

"Terrorists are interested in using cyberweapons, just the way they're interested in using most any weapon they can use against us," he said. 

In particular, they wish to target systems crucial to the high-tech driven U.S. economy, Blair added.

"We currently assess that their capability does not match their ambitions in that area, although that's something we have to work on all the time because things become more widespread, terrorists can find hackers to work for them."

"It is a concern, but right now I'd say their capability is low and, in addition, I think the more spectacular attacks that kill a lot of people on very publicly is what they are looking for," he said.

Blair told the Committee that Washington is "absolutely" working to accelerate the "very slow and painstaking" process of identifying those responsible for cyberattacks.

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