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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Official: Russians Working on Cyber War

WASHINGTON — Russia and China appear to be developing computer-based tools with the potential to do long-lasting harm to the U.S. economy, a top intelligence official told Congress.

Such arms will give future foes new leverage over the United States, including a way to ratchet up pressure and the prospect of anonymity, said Lawrence Gershwin, the national intelligence officer for science and technology.

Testifying Thursday before the Joint Economic Committee, Gershwin cited what he called some nations' public acknowledgment of the role cyber attacks would play as the "next wave of military operations."

"We've certainly seen that from countries such as China and Russia," he said.

While he mentioned no other states by name, he said a "fair number" had "active" programs, adding that most of his information on the subject was classified.

"We watch them very intensely," Gershwin said. "Some of them are aimed at the United States and some of the others are probably aimed at others."

"For the next five to 10 years or so, only nation-states appear to have the discipline, commitment and resources to fully develop capabilities to attack critical infrastructures," he said.

The United States itself is working to integrate keyboard-launched attacks and network defense into "all military plans and operations," Army Lieutenant General Edward Anderson, deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Space Command, told House Armed Service Committee members Wednesday.

"We need to continue developing computer network attack strategies through simulations and war-gaming to improve our understanding of the potential collateral effects associated with such actions," he said. "Collateral" damage is military jargon for spillover to civilians.

Duane Andrews, an assistant secretary of defense for command, control and intelligence in the administration of former President George Bush, told the hearing that the United States had lost ground in dealing with cyber threats.

The Defense Department should be prepared if necessary to help protect "networks of critical importance" to U.S. economic security, said Andrews, now an executive vice president of employee-owned Science Applications International Corp., a major defense contractor.

In other testimony, Frank Cilluffo, co-chairman of a task force on cyber threats of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, urged the creation of a White House post to oversee the government's cyber defense strategy.

Gershwin said "bombs still work better than bytes" for guerrillas. "But we anticipate more substantial cyber threats in the future as a more technically competent generation enters the terrorist ranks."

Although the harm done by hackers is well publicized, they pose a negligible threat to national-level infrastructures like transportation grids or financial networks, partly because they lack the skill or motive to mount a sustained attack, he said.