US lacks people, authorities to face cyber attack

Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the Defence Department's Cyber Command, told Congress yesterday that he would give the military a grade of "C" in its ability to protect Pentagon networks, but said things are much better than they were a few years ago and continue to improve.

"We are finding that we do not have the capacity to do everything we need to accomplish. To put it bluntly, we are very thin, and a crisis would quickly stress our cyber forces," Alexander said. "We cannot afford to allow cyberspace to be a sanctuary where real and potential adversaries can marshal forces and capabilities to use against us and our allies. This is not a hypothetical danger."

The US government has said its networks are probed and attacked millions of times a day, and that cyber criminals, terrorists and other nations are getting more adept at penetrating government and private networks to spy, steal critical data or affect critical infrastructure such as the electrical grid.

Alexander's grim assessment of America's abilities to fend off cyber threats was echoed earlier in the day by homeland security officials and analysts.

"Whatever we are doing now is not working," said James Lewis, a cyber security expert and senior fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "We need to rethink our approach." He said if an enemy launched a cyber attack, "we are unprepared to defend ourselves."

Homeland Security Department Undersecretary Phil Reitinger told the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee that the ongoing budget deadlock will trigger funding cuts and hurt the agency's effort to install the Einstein 3 programme across the federal networks. Einstein 3 is a sophisticated system that will detect and automatically block intrusions.

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