WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About 140 foreign intelligence organizations are trying to hack into the computer networks of the U.S. government and U.S. companies, a top counterintelligence official said.
Groups from around the globe are trying to hack into U.S. computer networks, a top counterintelligence official says.
Joel Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, told CNN it is not accurate to blame only the Chinese government for recent penetrations of government computer systems.
"We get intrusions from all point of the compass. It is really misleading to focus on one country," he said. "They are coming from everywhere now. It is a pervasive problem."
Because it's easy for hackers to disguise where an attack originates, Brenner said, the best course of action is to tighten up one's own networks rather than to place blame.
The nation's electronic systems are too easy to hack, and the number of world-class hackers is "multiplying at bewildering speed," he said at a symposium on cyber security Friday.
That, he said, has transformed the nature of counterintelligence: "If you can exfiltrate massive amounts of information electronically from the comfort of your own office on another continent, why incur the expense and risk of running a traditional espionage operation?"
Brenner warned that hackers could create chaos by manipulating information in electronic systems the government, military and private industry rely on.
"Our water and sewer systems, electricity grids, financial markets, payroll systems, air and ground traffic control systems ... are all electronically controlled, electronically dependent, and subject to sophisticated attacks by both state-sponsored and freelance terrorists," he said.
A coordinated cyber attack launched against Estonia last spring will not be the last one against a nation state, he said. "We had better heed the warning. We have got to do a better job of protecting our networks and thwarting adversary cyber intrusions."
Brenner said the matter is getting serious attention at the highest level of the federal government.
The government must develop a better system for warning the private sector and universities about attacks, he said, and some laws might need to change: "We've got to rethink the adequacy of our legal authorities to deal with the cyber thieves and the vandals who I call the Barbary pirates of the 21st century." E-mail to a friend
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