NSA: Cybercrime is 'the greatest transfer of wealth in history'

NSA: Cybercrime is 'the greatest transfer of wealth in history'

Summary: The director of the National Security Agency (NSA) has called cybercrime "the greatest transfer of wealth in history." As such, he urged politicians and the American population in general to support cybersecurity legislation being pushed through Congress.


At an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event on Monday called "Cybersecurity and American power," U.S. Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander called cybercrime "the greatest transfer of wealth in history." The director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and chief at the Central Security Service (CSS) reemphasized an immense problem the U.S. is facing: intellectual property loss via cyber espionage.

I've embedded the full video above. Below are some choice excerpts I found worth underlining.

"In fact, in my opinion, it's the greatest transfer of wealth in history," Alexander said in a statement. "Symantec placed the cost of IP theft to the United States companies in $250 billion a year, global cybercrime at $114 billion annually ($388 billion when you factor in downtime), and McAfee estimates that $1 trillion was spent globally under remediation. And that's our future disappearing in front of us. So, let me put this in context, if I could. We have this tremendous opportunity with the devices that we use. We're going mobile, but they're not secure. Tremendous vulnerabilities. Our companies use these, our kids use these, we use these devices, and they're not secure."

In addition, Alexander insisted that the lack of cybersecurity legislation can no longer continue. He urged politicians to stop delaying the approval of new cybersecurity laws, various proposals for which are currently making their way through Congress.

"We can do protection of civil liberties and privacy, and cybersecurity, as a nation," Alexander said. "Not only we can, but I believe that is something we must do. And so this cyber legislation that is coming up is going to be absolutely vital to the future of our country."

Hackers are often seen as pests, and a nuisance. When they band together, however, and especially when they are sponsored by a state, their potential power is huge. Bright minds in the U.S. are aware of this and regularly urge the government and private companies to take action. More resources can always be used to train cyber experts, build a defensive architecture, and increase situational awareness.

Finally, NSA's chief noted America's defensive measures will only be effective if information can flow, to those tasked with defending the country, at network speed. "One of the things that we have to have then is that if the critical infrastructure community is being attacked by something we need them to tell us at network speed," Alexander said. "It doesn't require the government to read their mail, or you mail, to do that. It requires the Internet Service Provider or that company to tell us that type of event is going on at this time, and it has to be at network speed if you're gonna stop it."

He then provided a quick and dirty military analogy. "It's like a missile coming into the United States. If you think about a missile coming into the United States there's two things you can do. You can take the snail mail approach and say I saw a missile going overhead, looked like it's headed your way, put a letter in the mail and say 'how did that turn out?' Now, cyber is at the speed of light. I'm just saying we perhaps ought to go a little faster. We probably don't want to use snail mail. Maybe we can do this in real time, and come up with a construct that you and the American people know, that we're not looking at civil liberties and privacy, we're actually trying to figure out when the nation is under attack and what we need to do about it."

See also:

Topics: Security, Government, Government US, Legal, Privacy, Symantec, Tech Industry

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • Fear...it's a great selling tool! Buy now!

    If you read the text of the legislation that is being voted on shortly by the Senate (already ratified by the house) it says that ANY member of the US Federal Government has the right to request any data from a private entity. Failure to comply will likely mean jail time. So, any member of government can request all your private details at any time.

    The only reason that they want this (because they already have the right to request data -- telcos and even Google provides it all the time) is because the MPAA and RIAA want to "stop piracy". So instead of changing their pricing model (these are the same folks that wanted billions from Netflix and put other companies out of business), they are trying to destroy America. I'm sick of this stuff!
  • More FUD and war propoganda

    I highly doubt you can pass more laws while protecting civil liberties.

    If only Ron Paul had won the republican nomination, he would cut funding to the overseas military spending and all these stupid programs that keep building up the corporate industrial society of America...and we'd have lower taxes.
    • He would have had to be elected to do that

      ...and then he would have needed help from Congress.

      There is much of the country where winning the Republican nomination is tantamount to election, but that's never been true of the presidency of the U.S.
      John L. Ries
  • Nope sorry...

    the greatest transfer of wealth was perpetrated by Wall Street execs a few years ago with the Financial Derivatives, Credit Default Swaps, Mortgage bundling, etc...
    Unfortunately, certain members of Congress watered down any real reform (on the argument that it would hurt the banks, something they are clearly capable of doing to themselves). Unfortunately, the bankers also were allowed to tell Congress what was and was not in their best interests as far as new legislation. Go look up some of the members who were protecting the banks, I think you will find it very informative on who wanted reform and who did not.
    • Compared to your federal government

      the "wealth" transfer of any private entity is miniscule. Get back to me when a private entity has transferred $16.7 trillion dollars from one group of Americans to another. That's the current cost of the "war on poverty" in 2008 dollars.
      • Exactly right

        The government steals money by force of law.
      • Actually, the federal government transferred $13 trillion U.S.

        to the Wall Street banks. Public to private.

        As for the war on poverty, I'd rather have my tax dollars go to helping the poor than to fat cats on Wall Street. Or to the military-industrial-congressional complex that seem to get us into more trouble than they get us out of.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Nope sorrier...

      And you're not even close, either. The biggest wealth transfer is taxation. Even the other forms of government pillage don't measure up.
      rocket ride
  • OMG cybercrime!

    I still remember simpler times when child porn was king. Everything was done to protect TEH CHILDREN.
    On the other hand I find the evolution of scare tactics rather entertaining.
  • *sigh*

    Yup more legislation, less rights. And many types of cybercrime could be prevented if people bothered to learn a little bit more about their systems instead of just how to access email and facebook, as well as learning what IT security is and how it affects them and their lives.
  • Fat Chance

    If cybercrime were in fact the greatest transfer of wealth in history, then Romney wouldn't be a millionaire. Instead, the greatest transfer of wealth has been going on since 1980, with Reagan's trickle down economics and the immoral and criminal behavior that deregulation of Wallstreet and the banks made possible.
  • Alexander along with Symantec & McAfee are full of HOT air

    This statement only promotes their own agenda ......think about it ........to totally find ways to lock down the Internet under the guise of protecting poor little us..........

    "In fact, in my opinion, it's the greatest transfer of wealth in history," Alexander said in a statement. "Symantec placed the cost of IP theft to the United States companies in $250 billion a year, global cybercrime at $114 billion annually ($388 billion when you factor in downtime), and McAfee estimates that $1 trillion was spent globally"

    If were actually loosing all that money .......... why aren't we seeing and hearing from actual companies that they're being robbed blind everyday do to inadequate internet security?

    WE hear about every too bit crimes committed everyday and we here all about Tom Cruise & Katie getting divorced .......but we don't here squat about a trillion dollars being stolen? ........ come on........who's full of you know what.

    They must think everyone is just plain stupid.

    All big brother wants to do is be able to put a spy in your bedroom
    Over and Out
  • 'the greatest transfer of wealth in history'

    Um, no.

    In the real world, 'the greatest transfer of wealth in history' would be the stock market...
    • Tangential, but

      the headline of the article and quote therein opens the floodgates.

      It's nice to read posts from people that you and I don't need to preach to. Choirs are cool. :)
  • The greatest transfer of wealth in all time

    Comes from transfer or labouring work from western to south east asian countries and then western countries buying those products. Every day galleons of gold leave western countries to buy tat from se asia.
    Much more every day than some scare tactic peculation.
    With all of this scare I suppose Microsoft will be put in charge of the internet.

    • read the article again

      That's exactly what he's talking about - the state-sponsored stealing of corporate trade secrets (e.g. the manufacturing diagrams for the latest car engines, the entire supply chain (with contact information and prices) involved in the manufacture of a jet engine, the distribution channel for industrial-scale water purification equipment). Remember when Cisco sued Huawei for patent infringement? How do you think Huawei was able to reproduce Cisco's entire code base? Maybe they have enormously talented reverse engineers. Or maybe a little bird dropped the entire source code into their lap. THIS is what Gen. Alexander is talking about.
  • There really is a problem...

    I have personal involvement with the types of events that the General is talking about. A big part of the transfer of wealth is theft of intellectual property. It is happening for real, on a massive scale. You don't hear about it because it is not useful to the companies for you to hear about it. The conversations are between the hacked companies and the security firms and (more and more) the government.

    Its not helpful to argue about what "transfers" are bigger when no-one is giving (or knows) what the actual numbers are.

    Just because there are some other "wealth transfers" doesn't mean that cyber espionage (or attacks) is any less of an issue. We can worry about more than one thing at a time.

    Now this doesn't mean that as citizens we should blindly accept whatever laws or systems that are proposed. But we shouldn't completely dismiss these arguments as false.
  • Not really

    The greatest transfer of wealth in history happened a few years ago with the global economic crisis -- that made cybercrime in general look like stealing money from the tip jar in comparison. Also I very nearly stopped reading when I saw the "American Enterprise Institute" being mentioned -- that's a sure sign of colossal BS.
    • Exactly right.

      Maybe the words the NSA spokesman should have said are "Cybercrime is the most profitable crime that the Justice Department is willing to prosecute."
      Jacob VanWagoner
  • Show me the money

    If you say its possible, detail your plan in less than 50 pages what needs to be done.
    Somehow I figure you'll require citizens to give up some rights to protect the common welfare.
    If thats the case, no thanks.
    And we also don't need hundred page plans that congress usually doesn't read before they vote on it.