WASHINGTON – An Al Qaeda video calling upon the “covert Mujahidin” to commit “electronic jihad” demonstrates the rapidly increasing threat of cyber attack and underscores the pressing need for cybersecurity standards for the nation’s most critical networks.
The video explicitly calls for cyber attacks against the networks of both government and life-sustaining critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, and compares vulnerabilities in U.S. critical cyber networks to the vulnerabilities in our aviation system prior to 9/11.
“This is the clearest evidence we’ve seen that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups want to attack the cyber systems of our critical infrastructure,” Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said. “Congress needs to act now to protect the American public from a possible devastating attack on our electric grid, water delivery systems, or financial networks, for example. As numerous, bipartisan national security experts have said, minimum cybersecurity standards for those networks are necessary to protect our national and economic security. I urge the Majority Leader to call up for debate and a vote the bill that Senators Collins, Rockefeller, Feinstein, and I authored to set those standards.”
Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said: “This video is troubling as it urges Al Qaeda adherents to launch a cyber attack on America. It’s clear that Al Qaeda is exploring all means to do us harm and this is evidence that our critical infrastructure is a target.
They understand that a cyber attack on our critical infrastructure will cause us great harm – possibly more than a traditional physical attack. That is why the Senate needs to act on our bipartisan Cybersecurity Act that requires minimum security performance requirements for key critical infrastructure cyber networks.”
The national security community says that the threat of cyber attack is increasing with each passing day and that the gap between terrorist aspirations and capability is closing. The senior intelligence official at Cyber Command, Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, reportedly said at a recent public meeting that Al Qaeda operatives are seeking the capability to stage cyber attacks against U.S. networks and that terrorists could purchase the capabilities to do so from expert criminal hackers.
Increasing evidence also suggests that Iran is looking to commit cyber attacks against the U.S., according to testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security last month. Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups takes on a new dimension in cyberspace where it could develop a powerful cyber weapon and pass it on to a terrorist group.
The Department of Homeland Security received more than 50,000 reports of cyber intrusions or attempted intrusions since October last year, an increase of 10,000 reports over the same period the previous year. Recent attacks on our natural gas pipelines underscore the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure.
The video, made by Al Qaeda’s media outlet, was obtained by the FBI last year through open sources. But the section on Al Qaeda’s interest in committing cyber attacks on the U.S. only recently gained broader circulation within the Administration.