A panel of leading security experts Wednesday described a range of homeland threats the United States will face in the coming years -- such as terrorist acts by al Qaeda, its affiliates, Iran, and lone wolves. But the common thread was an attack on the cyber networks and systems that sustain our economy and our standard of living, particularly power grids.
The testimony came at the first in a series of hearings before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs looking at the Department of Homeland Security's past record and future plans.
"Attacks from cyberspace by rival nations, terrorists, criminal gangs and individual hackers are already costing us billions of dollars in economic damage through theft of money as well as intellectual property," Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said. "Beyond this dollar loss, there is the potential to use computers to sabotage critical infrastructure, like electric utilities and pipelines that could lead to loss of life and environmental and economic disasters. Congress must pass cybersecurity legislation now, before an attack occurs."
Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said: "Chairman Lieberman and I have been working with our colleagues on legislation to address the cyber threat to our nation's most critical infrastructure, such as the power grid, nuclear facilities, water treatment plants, pipelines, and the transportation system. I cannot think of another area where the threat is greater and we've done less. We cannot afford wait for a "cyber 9/11' before taking action on this much-needed legislation."
Lieberman and Collins, along with Senators Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, S.2105, to establish minimum cybersecurity standards for the nation's most critical networks.
Witnesses named other threats -- from lone wolf attackers to bombs on our transportation systems. But because Lieberman and Collins are urging that the Senate pass cybersecurity, cyber threats dominated the discussion.
"We cannot fire-wall our way out of this problem," said Frank Cilluffo, Director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University."We need a cyber deterrence strategy."
In addition to General Hayden and Cilluffo, other witnesses included Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Adviser to the President of the RAND Corporation; and Stephen Flynn, Founding Co-Director of the George Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University.