US defence officials are warning administrators over dangerous new changes in the nature of cyber attacks.
Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn told attendees at the RSA security conference that attacks on government and infrastructure have begun to move from disruption tactics to destructive behaviour.
Lynn explained that while previous attacks have sought to take down government sites and services through techniques such as denial of service attacks, new incidents indicate that attackers may be looking to disrupt and even destroy military and infrastructure systems.
"It is possible to imagine attacks on military networks or critical infrastructure that could cause severe economic damage, physical destruction or even loss of life," he said.
Lynn said that currently nation states pose the biggest threat of attack. He estimates that upwards of 100 different intelligence agencies have attempted to compromise government networks.
While the threat of military reprisal keeps most nations from attempting a major cyber offensive, Lynn worries that extremist groups could potentially launch such attacks.
"We have to assume that if they have the means to strike they will do so," he said.
"Few weapons in the history of warfare, once created, have gone unused."
To help boost security in government systems and public infrastructure, Lynn said that the US government was pushing forward with a series of new initiatives.
The push will include new funding for cyber security research and development programmes as well as the expansion of IT security programmes in the US military reserves and National Guard.
Additionally, Lynn said that the government will be looking to the private sector for help, launching outreach programmes in which private firms and government agencies will be able to swap security experts for short periods of time.
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