NSA chief says cyberattacks on industrial systems are his top concern

Nation states and groups are engaging in risky behavior in the absence of cyberspace rules

Multiple nation-states are investing in their capabilities to hack critical U.S. infrastructure, making defense of those networks a top priority, U.S. National Security Agency chief Admiral Mike Rogers said Thursday.

Attackers are seeking detailed information on how industrial control systems work, including obtaining engineering schematics and information on how such systems are configured, said Rogers, who spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Such information could allow hackers to shut down "very segmented, very tailored" parts of networks, such as turning off power turbines, Rogers said.

Industrial control systems are "big growth areas of vulnerability and action that we are going to see in the coming 12 months and it's among the things that concern me the most." Rogers said. "This will be truly destructive if someone decides that's what they want to do."

One or two nations besides China possess the capability to damage U.S. infrastructure, although Rogers said specific information on which countries is classified.

China and Russia are generally cited as nations with advanced cyberwarfare capabilities. The U.S. has stepped up its evaluation of critical infrastructure in the light of growing threats, focusing on 16 sectors as being critically important, including the power, aviation, financial and water industries.

There is a need for a set of rules to be applied to cyberspace, similar to laws governing warfare, Rogers said. Now, there is a "sense of risk" among nation states, groups and individuals that can easily acquire the ability to conduct cyberattacks, which could result in a loss of life.

"You can just do literally almost anything you want, and there isn't a price to pay for it," Rogers said.

The U.S. is seeing a trend in criminal groups, who have been motivated in the past by stealing information for profit, using some of the same attack tools used by nation-states, Rogers said.

The government believes that nation-states are trying to obscure their activity by using criminal gangs as surrogates to conduct cyberattacks. "That's a troubling development for us," he said.

He called for greater machine-to-machine sharing of information between private companies and the government in order to allow for a better defense.

Roger cautioned that the NSA, which has endured criticism for vast data collection programs revealed by its former contractor Edward Snowden, wants a public discussion on what kinds of data would be exchanged.

"This is about computer network defense, not about intelligence -- totally different missions, with totally different objectives," Rogers said. "I don't want people's personal data."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Government use of ITsecurityU.S. National Security Agencygovernment

More about House of RepresentativesNational Security AgencyNSA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts