FBI: cyber attack could have as much impact as a bomb

5 Mar 2010
Danger sign

US warns that terrorists are likely to step up cyber attacks - and the repercussions could be huge

A terrorist cyber attack could have as much impact as a bomb, according to FBI Director Robert Mueller.

In a speech to an internet security conference, Mueller said militant groups such as Al Qaeda had primarily used the internet to recruit members and plan attacks, but had made clear they also see it as a target.

"Terrorists have shown a clear interest in pursuing hacking skills and they will either train their own recruits or hire outsiders with an eye toward combining physical attacks with cyber attacks," Mueller said.

Terrorists have shown a clear interest in pursuing hacking skills and they will either train their own recruits or hire outsider

He added a cyber attack could have the same impact as a "well-placed bomb."

Mueller said that some foreign governments, which he did not identify, also posed a threat by seeking to use the internet for espionage. "Apart from the terrorist threat, nation-states may use the internet as a means of attack for political ends," he said.

"Nation-state hackers or mercenaries for hire" as well as rogue hackers or international criminal syndicates are targeting government networks, Mueller added. "They seek our technology, our intelligence, our intellectual property, even our military weapons and strategies."

The comments came in the wake of several international internet security incidents. In January, Google said it had detected a sophisticated online attack on its systems that originated in China and said it believed at least 20 other companies had been targeted.

According to Google, one of the primary goals of the attacks was accessing the personal email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Earlier this week, Spanish police arrested three men accused of masterminding one of the largest computer crimes to date, in which more than 13 million PCs were infected with a virus that stole credit-card numbers and data.

Mueller said international cooperation was essential to combating online crime like the so-called Mariposa botnet incident in Spain. He added the FBI had 60 "attache" offices around the world as well as special agents embedded with police forces in countries such as Romania, Estonia and the Netherlands.

He urged businesses targeted in cyberattacks to come forward to help track down the perpetrators, saying the FBI was attuned to the delicate nature of the situation for corporations.

"We will minimise the disruption to your business, we will safeguard your privacy and your data and where necessary we will seek protective orders to preserve trade secrets and business confidentiality," he said.

Read more

News