LAS VEGAS: Government officials are still struggling to understand the potential scope and implications of a large-scale cyber attack, according to the former director of the CIA's counter-terror office.
Ambassador Cofer Black told attendees at the 2011 Black Hat conference that the Stuxnet attack in many ways signified an escalation in the scope and sophistication of attacks on cyber infrastructure which the government has not yet grasped.
The timing and nature of the keynote speech was particularly poignant for Black. Ten years ago, nearly to the day, he took to the stage at a Department of Defense convention and warned that an attack on the US from Al Qaeda was imminent.
Four weeks later, terrorists flew passenger jets into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in what would become the deadliest terrorist attack in US history.
"There is almost a transference from what I experienced to what you are doing now and what you are doing in the future," Black told attendees. "The counter-terrorism era started in much the same way."
Black explained that cyber threats in the modern era may carry a risk level similar to those of conventional terror methods, such as co-ordinated acts of violence and bacteriological attacks. He suggested that cyber operations will become an integral part of future conflicts.
Much like decision makers failed to understand the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the summer of 2001, Black said that officials may not fully understand or validate the threats posed by cyber attacks.
"It is now your turn whether you know it or not. The issues you are involved with are taking a value among decision makers that is huge," he said.
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