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Cyber threats at the top of US intelligence report for the first time

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James Clapper
James Clapper

Cyber threats are the number one type of danger facing the United States, according to US national intelligence director James Clapper, the man in charge of coordinating the CIA and the NSA, among many other agencies. "As more and more state and nonstate actors gain cyber expertise, its importance and reach as a global threat cannot be overstated," Clapper said in testimony he gave to the House Intelligence Committee last week, as part of his office's annual global threat assessment report.

"This is the first time that cyber has been cited as the top threat."

The US Department of Defense followed up with a news release today emphasizing the new classification of cyber threats as the most significant facing the United States. "This is the first time that cyber has been cited as the top threat," a Defense Department spokesperson told The Verge. That said, Clapper and other officials have been sounding the alarm on cyber threats for the past several years now, and even in this latest threat assessment, Clapper notes that "there is a remote chance of a major cyberattack against U.S. critical infrastructure systems during the next two years." Last year, Iran was dubbed the number one threat by the national intelligence director.

The news comes just days after the House Intelligence Committee voted to move forward with a controversial cyber security bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which was originally introduced in late 2011. Clapper congratulated the committee for advancing the bill in his statement, and the bill's backers argue it is necessary to defend against the increasing cyber threats posed by hackers in China, Iran and other places. But privacy advocates have raised concerns that despite some recent amendments, the bill still gives companies too broad a capability to share private web user information with government agencies. The bill has to pass the full House and Senate and be signed by the President in order to become law, but the White House recently signaled it would not support CISPA without stricter privacy provisions.