Top U.S. security officials told Congress that cyber terrorism and cyber espionage have become America's worst menace, more dangerous than crazed suicide terror fanatics.
Delivering the yearly Worldwide Threat Assessment to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said: "Our statement this year leads with cyber, and it's hard to overemphasize its significance."
CIA Director John Brennan said covert computer attacks "absolutely" are growing. "The seriousness and the diversity of the threats that this country faces in the cyber domain are increasing on a daily basis."
In an ABC News interview, President Obama echoed: "What is absolutely true is that we have seen a steady ramping up of cyber security threats .... Some are state-sponsored. Some are just sponsored by criminals."
These Washington insiders should know, because America itself presumably pulled off a clever cyber attack. When Iran wouldn't stop refining uranium for possible nuclear bombs, Obama reportedly ordered spy agencies to send a "Stuxnet" virus into master computers controlling Iran's enrichment plant, causing centrifuges to spin wildly and destroy themselves.
The Pentagon says cyberspace now is "a domain of war." Plotters trying to hurt America possibly could induce computers to shut down power grids and cause widespread blackouts -- or plunge banking networks into economy-wrecking chaos -- or halt water treatment systems -- or disrupt air traffic by confounding control towers -- or cut signals from space satellites -- or even grab control of thermonuclear missiles in their silos.
Consider banking: The Computer Crime Research Center says: "The Internet being down for just one day could disrupt nearly $6.5 billion worth of transactions."
Clapper and Brennan said the likelihood of such an electronic calamity is "remote" -- and government experts are doing their utmost to prevent it. That's welcome news.
While these big worries about national security loom, smaller operations suffer lesser cyber attacks -- such as the foreign saboteur who sneaked a wrecking code into this newspaper's website recently.Modern life has become almost totally dependent on computers and the Internet. It's disturbing to see this electronic nerve system become a source of problems, even danger.