Retired Army Gen. Keith Alexander has warned lawmakers that the U.S. remains vulnerable to cyberattacks from both foreign and native adversaries.
Alexander, who led the National Security Agency from 2005 to 2014, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that cyberattacks against large companies like Sony, Home Depot and Target have revealed how attackers in places such as China are capable of targeting private-sector U.S. companies.
He also said China is increasingly demonstrating a “need to steal intellectual property.”
Alexander thanked lawmakers for recently passing a cybersecurity information-sharing bill designed to put the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security departments all on the same page in efforts to safeguard sensitive information.
But he said Congress should also provide more incentives for information-sharing and better allow hacked companies to quickly alert the government of an attack. Alexander said he believes even large companies, such as Sony, need government help in promptly responding to a cybersecurity breach.
Thousands of Sony Pictures Entertainment emails were revealed last year after a hack widely attributed to North Korea. The breach brought to light many unsavory missives involving the company’s president, celebrities and other employees.
“Our nation is the one that created the Internet – we were the first to do this, we ought to be the first to secure it,” Alexander said.
Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., agreed that more resources are needed to respond to the ever-changing modern battlefield – both on the ground and on the Web.
“Our enemies are not just investing in new defense technologies … doing more of the same simply plays into our adversaries’ hands,” McCain said.
Also testifying, author and strategist Peter Singer warned that new technologies like 3-D printers that could be used to make weapons also heighten the risk of conflict.
“What was once thinkable, and then became unthinkable, is again thinkable,” Singer said, noting the growth of China’s military and Russia’s recent land-grab in Ukraine.
New technologies in the hands of potential enemies “threaten to do to the current defense marketplace what the iPod did to the music industry,” said Singer, a senior fellow at New America.
The Armed Services Committee also discussed responding to homegrown threats.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., questioned what steps the NSA is taking internally “to stop the Edward Snowdens of the NSA from inside attacks?”
Snowden, a former NSA contractor now holed up in Russia, divulged swathes of classified information that revealed the U.S. government had been collecting vast amounts of phone and Internet records.
Alexander admitted that organizations like the NSA can be caught “flat-footed,” but said the agency has made steps to better detect insider attacks.