CIA Director John Brennan says the potential of a destructive cyberattack on American infrastructure is what worries him the most.
“That cyber environment can pose a very, very serious and significant attack vector for our adversaries if they want to take down our infrastructure, if they want to create havoc in transportation systems, if they want to do great damage to our financial networks,” he said Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Although data breaches and hacks have become commonplace over the past few years, officials have yet to see a truly destructive cyberattack that causes physical damage to American infrastructure.
Still, most intelligence leaders warn that a number of digital adversaries have obtained the ability to launch these type of assaults.
It’s believed that countries such as China, Iran and Russian are all probing the computer networks that support U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, such as energy, gas and water.
National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers warned lawmakers over a year ago that China and “one or two” other countries would be able to shut down portions of critical U.S. infrastructure through cyberspace.
Brennan acknowledged that several countries have the capability to launch a digital assault that could, for instance, cause power outages.
But, he cautioned, “having the capability but then also having the intent are two different things.”
“I think, fortunately, right now those who may have the capability do not have the intent,” Brennan added. “Those who may have the intent right now, I believe, do not have the capability. Because if they had the capability, they would deploy and employ those tools.”
Groups that “may have the intent” are likely rogue nations such as North Korea and terrorist organizations like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Top U.S. officials have cautioned that ISIS has shown indications it is working to develop the ability to launch damaging cyberattacks on U.S. critical infrastructure, a prospect that has caught the attention of Capitol Hill.
Brennan’s own cybersecurity measures were also recently pulled into the spotlight when a hacker cracked his personal email account.
Brennan said the incident “shows that there are ways that individuals can get into the personal emails of anybody.”
He warned that many people are opening themselves up to this type of exposure by widely sharing personal information.
“Individuals are liberally giving up their privacy, you know, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly as they give information to companies or to sales reps,” he said. “Or they go out on Facebook or the various social media. They don't realize, though, that they are then making themselves vulnerable to exploitation.”