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Robert Gates Warns Of Growing Cyber Threats

November 17, 2010

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that the United States faces a “huge future threat” from cybercriminals, and that a coordinated civil-military effort is needed to protect the nation’s networks from attacks.

“I think there is a huge future threat. And there is a considerable current threat,” Gates told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council.

“And that’s just the reality that we all face.”

According to estimates from the Defense Department, more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations have attempted to breach U.S. networks.   Furthermore, hackers also steal enough data every year from U.S. businesses, government agencies and universities to fill the entire Library of Congress many times over.

Gates said the U.S. military had made significant progress protecting its own networks, and was working with its private-sector partners “to bring them under that umbrella.”

Indeed, some of the Pentagon’s largest suppliers, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are investing in the growing market for cyber technology.

However, applying Pentagon expertise to the protection of domestic infrastructure can present possible issues with civil liberties.

“The key is the only defense that the United States has against nation-states and other potential threats in the cyber-world is the National Security Agency,” said Gates, referring to the stealthy Defense Department agency that protects national security data and networks, and intercepts foreign communications.

“You cannot replicate the National Security Agency for domestic affairs. There isn’t enough money. There isn’t enough time. And there isn’t enough human talent.”

President Obama’s administration announced last month that the NSA would begin co-operating more closely with the Department of Homeland Security, including housing the DHS’ privacy, civil liberties and legal staff at the NSA.

“So you have the domestic security agency, DHS, being able to reach into NSA in a real-time way to get the kind of protection we need,” said Gates.

“And my hope is that over time that will lead to better protections for both ‘.gov’ and ‘.com.’”

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