Cyber commander accuses countries of targeting infrastructure

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 27, 2012 3:37am IST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Unspecified nations played a role in a 17-fold jump in cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure since 2009, but this does not appear to reflect payback for a reported U.S. role in malicious code known as Stuxnet, the head of the Pentagon's National Security Agency said on Thursday.

"I don't see the correlation there at all," Army General Keith Alexander told a security forum in Aspen, Colorado. "I don't see anything that goes to Stuxnet or anything like that."

Stuxnet was the first discovered malware designed to subvert industrial systems. Credited with setting back Iran's disputed nuclear program, it has been reported by The New York Times to have been part of a U.S. and Israeli intelligence operation started under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama.

The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. intelligence arm, said in a report to Congress in October that China and Russia were in the forefront of keyboard-launched theft of U.S. trade and technology secrets to bolster their fortunes at U.S. expense.

The report's unclassified version did not accuse Russia or China, nor blame any other country by name for allegedly targeting U.S. infrastructure like power grids, transportation hubs and telecommunications networks.

Alexander, who also heads the U.S. military's Cyber Command, told the Aspen Security Forum that he was unaware of any evidence that Stuxnet were now being turned against the United States, as some experts have predicted might be the case now that the malware has become available online.

Some of what the general called the 17-fold increase was attributed to nation states and some to "hackers and other criminals," he said.

"More right now (of attacks on infrastructure) is criminal and hackers ... the majority," Alexander said in reply to a question. "But not by a lot."

Alexander said earlier this month that the number of attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure went from nine in 2009 to more than 160 last year.

The general is headed to an annual conference in Las Vegas known as Defcon, a gathering of geeks, hackers and security professionals that amounts to the world's largest hacking party.

"We need them to help educate our country in cybersecurity," he said of the hackers' cyber savvy. "And I think there's some great things they can do."

(Reporting By Jim Wolf)