WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, Friday said new disclosures about the frequency of cyber attacks, particularly on critical infrastructure, underscore the urgent need for cybersecurity legislation that protects the nation’s most critical networks – those that operate life sustaining services such as the power grid, water delivery systems, and finance and transportation networks.

At an Aspen Institute security conference, General Keith Alexander – head of the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, the government’s premier defenders against cyber attacks – said attacks had increased 17-fold between 2009 and 2011, with more and more targeted to critical infrastructure. Alexander said the U.S. was unprepared for a major cyber attack and urged passage of legislation to improve the nation’s defenses.

“As head of the NSA, General Alexander is a trusted voice on the risk of cyber attacks against U.S. networks and our nation’s lack of preparedness for a catastrophic attack,” Lieberman and Collins said in a joint statement. “A 17-fold increase in the number of cyber attacks, a growing number targeted at our critical infrastructure, is a stark warning that we delay improving our defense at our own peril. Defense of our most critical networks, largely owned by the private sector, is vital to our national security and economic prosperity.

“We hope that the Senate hears General Alexander’s warning and votes to pass strong cybersecurity legislation next week.”

Two weeks ago, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Alexander disclosed for the first time estimates of the costs of cyber attacks against our networks. He said attacks constitute “the greatest transfer of wealth in history,” placing the cost of stolen intellectual property from U.S. companies at $250 billion a year. Globally, he said, cybercrime costs about $114 billion a year and more than double that when the cost of downtime is taken into consideration. The cybersecurity firm McAfee estimates that $1 trillion was spent globally on remediation from attacks.