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Cyber adversaries could 'flip switch' to attack, experts warn House members

AP
Rep. Patrick Meehan (center), R-Pa., confers with the witness panel on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, before a hearing on cyber threats from China, Russia and Iran. From left are Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute; Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer and security services architect at Mandiant; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Martin Libicki, senior management scientist at the RAND Corp.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 3:27 p.m.
 

Computer attacks on South Korea underscore the growing threat of cyber warfare that starts with the flip of a switch, computer security experts told federal lawmakers Wednesday.

North Korea is a “wild card” when it comes to computer attacks because the country has the desire to launch attacks and a growing capability, said Frank J. Cilluffo, co-director of the Cyber Center for National and Economic Security at George Washington University.

Although North Korea is certainly a suspect behind attacks that shut down some South Korean banks and TV stations, President Obama and South Korean officials have not officially indicated that North Korea, China or any other nation is responsible.

Hacking by China and Russia is “brazen, wholesale and significant,” and Iran poses a growing threat, Cilluffo said.

“Both our national security and our nation's economic security are at risk,” Cilluffo told the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies. “It's literally as easy as flipping a switch to attack.”

Computer attacks represent a “new battlefield,” subcommittee Chairman Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., said. He called Iran a “potentially irrational actor” and said Russia showed a wilingness to attack its neighbors, Estonia and Georgia.

“I view cyberspace as a new, modern Cold War battlefield between the U.S. and Russia, and we must prepare and respond appropriately,” Meehan said.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, blamed North Korea for the cyber attacks on South Korea. He said Iran's growing capability keeps him up at night.

Last year's attack on a Saudi Arabian state-owned oil refinery proves that Iran has the ability to carry out a destructive attack, McCaul said. The attack wiped out the hard drives on 30,000 computers.

“Iran has this capability to destroy,” McCaul said. “They're red-lining us. They're testing us. They want to know how far they can go before we actually, ultimately respond.”

Iran has stepped up its use of cyberspace to repress its own citizens and attack Western targets, testified Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council. The country wants to demonstrate it can reach the United States and its allies.

“Iran has evolved a very significant and maturing offensive cybersecurity capability,” he said.

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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