The top U.S. general in charge of cyber security warned on Tuesday that the United States is increasingly vulnerable to attacks like those that destroyed data on tens of thousands of computers in Saudi Arabia and South Korea in the past year.
Army General Keith Alexander, who heads the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, told the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington that U.S. computer networks were already under constant attack and billions of dollars worth of intellectual property were flowing out of the country each year.
"Mark my words, it's going to get worse. The disruptive and destructive attacks on our country will get worse and ... if we don't do something, the theft of intellectual property will get worse," Alexander said at the summit.
Alexander said he was not aware of any cyber assaults against the United States as destructive as the one that damaged computers at Saudi Arabia's national oil company, Aramco, last year. But he said similar attacks could well be seen "in the not-too-distant future" on key U.S. infrastructure sectors, such as public utilities and financial services.
The general argued forcefully for legislation that would make it easier for the government to work with industry on monitoring private computer networks for signs of intrusion, despite concerns raised by privacy advocates.
But he said the NSA had no interest in reading the emails of U.S. citizens.
"We can protect our networks and protect our civil liberties and privacy," Alexander told the summit.
He said proposed legislation would not allow government agencies to view data that identified individual people, except in specific cases that required special waivers.