Is cybercrime more of a threat than terrorism?

Intelligence officials believe so, saying that cyberattackers are the main threat against the United States in the modern era.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
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Cyberattacks are rising, and we are currently witnessing a mad governmental scrabble to gather enough resources to keep infrastructure and businesses safe from such threats.

However, considering the apparent ease which many hackers can infiltrate systems -- whether taking down a bank with a DDoS attack or tampering with an emergency broadcast system to declare to viewers live that the dead have risen and are attacking the living -- it may be too little, too late.

Security firms and experts have been screaming into the wind for long enough that unless more security staff are trained and more investment is placed in combating cybercrime, core services and business systems are at risk -- and as yesterday's events show, this appears to be the case.

On Tuesday, as reported by Reuters, intelligence chiefs ousted terrorism as the "top threat" facing the United States, and instead replaced it with cybercrime. The report notes that digital assaults on governmental targets have risen, and more importantly, as technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, it is difficult to keep up.

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told the committee:

"In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks."

Clapper's written report suggests that catastrophic attacks are unlikely to take place in the near future. However, at a separate hearing before the Senate Armed Services committee, mere minutes after the head of the U.S. military's Cyber Command Army General Keith Alexander spoke of the risk to firms and banks, hackers -- potentially with a sense of humor -- took down Chase Bank's website with a simple denial-of-service (DoS) attack.

Annually, cyberattacks are estimated to cost the global economy billions of dollars a year. As the number of Internet users rises and technological reliance by corporations increases, unless something is done to combat the problem now, this is likely to continue. The United States leads the world in defense spending, but perhaps its about time some of that budget was moved from guns and drones to training staff and investing in computing -- especially if intelligence officials believe cybercrime is a more critical threat than terrorism and physical warfare.

Within the hearing, as expected, the issue of China reared its head. Whereas the Asian country denies that it is one of the main sources of cyberattacks, something that security reports from Microsoft and Mandiant contend, evidence may suggest otherwise.

China says that it is often the target of cyberattacks based in the United States. However, recent reports have suggests that China hosts potentially military or state-sponsored teams that account for an "overwhelming" number of cyberattacks. As a result of these now tense issues -- even though China has stated it is willing to talk to the American government about this concern -- White House national security adviser Tom Donilon has suggested the problem is a "growing challenge" to the economic relationship between both countries.

At the hearing, Clapper also mirrored Alexander's commented at the Senate Armed Services committee, saying that unless budget cuts are placed under intelligence agency control, the ability to defend against cybercrime will be affected. Clapper noted that the automatic cuts could mean that FBI staff could face temporary unpaid leave, intelligence professionals could have contacts cut, and old systems which have to be updated to keep up with evolving technology may not be replaced.

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