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The risk of a catastrophic cyberattack is approaching the gravity of the nuclear risk, according to the Bush administration's top spy.
"The cyber risk has become so important that, in my view, it rivals nuclear weapons in terms of seriousness," Michael McConnell, former director of national intelligence, said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate committee on commerce, transportation, and technology.
McConnell warned in striking terms that the United States was not prepared either for cyber warfare or cyber criminals. "If the nation went to war today in a cyberwar, we would lose," he said. "We're the most vulnerable, we're the most connected, and we have the most to lose."
In addition, McConnell predicted that the United States will suffer a catastrophic cyberattack before it takes strong action, and said that America's cyber posture will be strengthened greatly after any attack. He added that the strongest action should focus on securing financial transactions and the financial sector.
He compared what should be done in the cyber world to what has already been done in the nuclear world, pushing the Senate to promote ideals of verification, data integrity, and "non-repudiation" in any cybersecurity bills the Senate decides to put forward.
The Senate has been working on such a bill for almost a year under the leadership of Sens. John Rockefeller, (D-W.V.), and Olympia Snowe (R-Me). The bill is now in its fourth draft, and according to Snowe, has been written in consultation with "hundreds" of key stakeholders.
"We need a very strong, top-level coordination," Rockefeller said at the hearing. "Too much is at stake to think that today's outdated structures are up to the task." The Rockefeller-Snowe bill would call for a comprehensive cyberstrategy, identify key roles of all important players in government-led cybersecurity efforts, and recommend that the cyber coordinator position take on a cabinet-level, Senate-confirmed role.