The Pentagon’s Cyber Command will create 13 offensive teams by the fall of 2015 to help defend the nation against major computer attacks from abroad, Gen. Keith Alexander testified to Congress on Tuesday, a rare acknowledgment of the military’s ability to use cyberweapons.
The new teams are part of a broader government effort to shield the nation from destructive attacks over the Internet that could harm Wall Street or knock out electric power, for instance.
As he moves into his eighth year as director of the National Security Agency and his third year as head of the fledgling Cyber Command, Alexander told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the strategic-threat picture is worsening. “We’ve seen the attacks on Wall Street over the last six months grow significantly,” he said, noting there were more than 160 disruptive attacks on banks in that period.
Describing an attack on Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, he said: “Last summer, in August, we saw a destructive attack on Saudi Aramco, where the data on over 30,000 systems were destroyed. And if you look at industry, especially the anti-virus community and others, they believe it’s going to grow more in 2013. And there’s a lot that we need to do to prepare for this.”
The U.S. intelligence community has indicated that the assaults on the banks and Saudi Aramco were the work of Iran in retaliation for U.S. financial sanctions imposed to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Alexander’s remarks came as U.S. intelligence officials elsewhere on Capitol Hill testified about the growing cyberthreat. At a national security threat hearing, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. called on China to stop its “cyber-stealing” of corporate secrets from U.S. networks.